Mental Health Awareness campaigns that help destigmatise mental illness and normalise our general discourse surrounding mental health have gained momentum as more and more people have become aware of the importance of tackling the topic of mental health in a tactful, empathetic, and authentic manner, whilst promoting an approach based on kindness and transparency. Partly influenced by the devastating effects of the pandemic, partly due to a general paradigm shift towards awareness and a more inclusive worldview, this phenomenon has generated a surge in initiatives meant to summon empathy and unite people, with the aim of making a palpable positive change and ultimately helping people live happier, more fulfilling lives by facilitating access to support and recovery.
Mental health afflictions are not uncommon: 1 in 4 people experience a mental health issue every year in the UK. Up to two-thirds of adults who have a mental health problem are not seeking or receiving any form of treatment. Around 1 in 3 adults in the UK report having lived through at least one traumatic event. Mental health issues don’t discriminate. As the statistics suggest, it is essential to familiarise ourselves with the subject and acknowledge the ubiquity of mental health afflictions. We have to realise that someone we know may experience a mental health crisis, and we may encounter people concealing psychological distress in our daily lives wherever we go. While we may not always be able to identify those experiencing a mental health crisis, this awareness serves as a reminder of the universal need for kindness and the destigmatisation of mental health discussions, as well as an opportunity to stay informed and perceptive in order to help those who may be in distress.
Let’s look at how mental health organisations that are intrinsically devoted to this cause have inspired change through impactful campaigns that have sparked meaningful conversations and, in some cases, helped significantly transform people’s lives for the better. Whether by utilising the eternally stirring powers of spoken word poetry, portrait photography, or video or providing stimulating tools for self-reflection, these incentives have made an impact that continues to cause ripples and echoes in time and, in many cases, their relevance and striking effects have been sustained through creative acts ranging from picking a memorable hashtag to reinterpreting stories through a poetic lens. As we shall see, success was in part attributed to leveraging social media to convey the right message in the right way to a wide range of people.
- Mind launched a campaign titled “If this speaks to you, speak to Mind” on World Mental Health Day 2022 (10 October). The mental health charity united people experiencing mental health struggles with artists who turned their stories into moving spoken word poems conveyed via Youtube videos and shared on different social media platforms. The poets gained a deep insight into the mindsets of others and managed to retell other people’s experiences in a personal, emotional way. The aim was not unusual – as expected, this will prove to be a common theme in most of the campaigns: removing the stigma surrounding mental health issues and incentivising people to open up and seek the support needed.
The format and content produced, however, were distinctively evocative and effective in resonating with and touching people, who were encouraged to share the poignant stories on their social channels using the hashtag #SpeakToUs, whilst being reminded they could potentially save lives. Conveying the experiences of disorders and of detrimental or traumatic situations through a poetic lens induces a sense of catharsis for those who relate and makes them feel seen and understood. Poetry, especially when recited the right way, from the heart, can have that magical effect of validating the feelings of people even if their perspectives are slightly diverging in life – by being open to various interpretations whilst simultaneously sharing a common sentiment that touches people’s hearts and brings them together.
The individual experience becomes universal. As Anaïs Nin wrote in her diary, “The theme is always the personal, but that does not strictly mean a personal story: it means a personal relationship to all things and people. The personal, if it is deep enough, becomes universal, mythical, symbolic; I see, I hear, I feel. These are my primitive elements of discovery. Music, dance, poetry and painting are the channels for emotion. It is through them that experience penetrates our bloodstream.!”
Here is a link to Mind’s campaign page, which includes all of the videos as well as other resources: https://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/world-mental-health-day
On their website, you can also find several articles sharing other stories, including that of Isabelle, a poet who carried the dark burden of depressive episodes and found her peace within the poetry scene:
“After being hospitalised in 2016 I found that there weren’t accessible narratives that could help my recovery. I found acceptance in the poetry scene. It has so many elements that are healing for people’s mental health. It’s a safe space, an opportunity to belong, to be heard, to share and to feel free of the judgment we imprison ourselves with. […] The poetry scene gave me the chance to see myself without judgment. It made me accept the praise I needed to heal. Taking this journey has been the kindest thing I have ever done for myself – to finally allow myself to be seen, to finally allow myself to be heard.”
- CALM’s “The Last Photo” campaign, launched in June 2022, was the most saddening and emotionally distressing amongst all. The campaign had a physical and a digital component. The physical installation, which was displayed on the South Bank in London, featured the last portraits of people who took their own lines, whose smiling expressions would not betray a tormented inner state. The digital video was a compilation of the last recorded clips of suicide victims. The core messaging was that “Suicidal doesn’t always look suicidal”. As the title might suggest, the videos, in the format of visceral home footage, don’t match the stereotypical perceptions of what a suicidal person looks like (reclusive and outwardly sad); on the contrary, the protagonists are seen smiling, playing around, carefree, connecting with their family, friends, or kids, and apparently enjoying life.
CALM, the suicide prevention charity, wanted to make people realise that the outside doesn’t always correspond with what’s on the inside as suicidal tendencies are not always conspicuous. That it is imperative to normalise conversations about mental health, removing negative connotations we attribute to mental illness or issues and reshaping our attitude about it, so that people will not be plagued by fears of opening up and feel the pressure to dissimulate. CALM also provides resources on how to spot an invisible cry for help, as well as how to open up a potentially life-saving conversation about this topic.
The ad video campaign received some backlash due to its powerful, emotionally shocking impact, especially as some people claimed it was irresponsible to show it on TV before 9 p.m. CALM responded by reinforcing the purpose behind the TV spot, namely acting as a preventative measure. The charity emphasised that the ad was meant to challenge the image of suicide and represent a wake-up call, encouraging people not to take mental health at face value – by offering help on how to navigate the issue with the core intent of preventing further deaths.
In addition to this, following the aggressive pandemic deaths, the news fixated on statistics made society rather desensitised to death, which generated a need for a more human and personalised approach in the way we perceive lost lives, with a focus on identity, personality, and the fact that such a tragedy could affect anyone, regardless of their family or environment. 125 people die by suicide every week in the UK. Over the course of our lifetime, 1 in 5 people have suicidal thoughts, 1 in 14 people self-harm, and 1 in 15 people attempt to take their lives. The reality is that, although in the last years there has been a significant progress in the way society tackles the topic of mental health generally, this hasn’t particularly extended to the topic of suicide. #UnitedAgainstSuicide.
The campaign was supported on social media, ITV, BBC, in print, and by mental health clinicians. In an interview, the agency director revealed: “What shocked me most was how common the insight really is. We’re all used to the idea that people hide their emotions, but I never fully appreciated that people often appear happier right before committing suicide because they’ve found a perverse sense of peace in their resolve to finally do it. That insight haunted me – still does. It just goes to show how wrong we are to wait for the ‘signs’ before checking in.”
- “Every Mind Matters“ (UK) is a campaign and platform created by The Mental Health Foundation and promoted on the NHS website to raise awareness about mental health challenges and stimulate people to take the necessary measures to support and prioritise their mental wellbeing and live a fulfilling life.
The campaign revolves around “My Mind Plan”, a mental health tool accessible via the NHS website. The tool, designed to help people devise a mental health action plan, consists of a few simple questions that encourage self-reflection, followed by suggestions on how to meet your needs based on what you should prioritise.
Aside from the tips, it recommends you wellbeing apps, free courses, home workouts, meditation techniques, and external links. The campaign also provides practical advice and resources that people can access when their mental health is in decline, as well as suggestions on how to support others. It includes self-help CBT techniques such as reframing unhelpful intrusive thoughts and finding ways to bounce back during challenging times. The success of the campaign is in part attributed to the way it utilises social media to raise awareness #EveryMindMatters. The Mental Health Foundation reported that over 4 million individual Mind Plans have been created.
Stephen Fry, who has proved to be a devoted mental health advocate along the years, was one of the famous supporters of the campaign:
“Just like keeping in physical shape, it is important to find activities you enjoy to keep your mind healthy. I’ve found food preparation and cooking have helped me relax over the past year. It’s all about finding what works best for you to help deal with the everyday stresses and strains of life – it could be exercise, baking a cake or getting stuck in with gardening – the list is endless. If you are struggling and need advice, check out the Every Mind Matters website for tips and guidance to get you started today.”
- The “Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health” campaign aimed to remove the stigma element from the mental health landscape and acknowledge its complex, multifaceted, and nuanced issues. The project summoned several advocacy groups such as The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, The Jed Foundation, Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the National Council for Behavioral Health.
The initiative was executed through several channels, encompassing a social media movement, the “Be Vocal” website which incorporated videos of people sharing their stories, additional resources, and a documentary film titled “Beyond Silence”.
In addition to keeping people informed by raising awareness, the campaign was also intended to spark meaningful conversations, inviting and empowering people to reveal their own stories on the “Be Vocal” website – in order to serve as inspiration for other people living with mental illness with the aim of dispelling fears of opening up and of seeking help when in need. Several actors and public figures contributed with videos describing their own struggles. The documentary film, “Beyond Silence”, showcased the experiences of three people whose bold decision to speak up about their mental health transformed their lives. #BeVocalSpeakUp
- The “Unlonely Project”, a creatively empowering initiative by the Foundation for Art & Healing, promotes creative expression as a path towards connection and improved mental health, emphasising the transformative, unifying, scientifically-proven powers of art. The campaign raises awareness of and combats the consequences of the loneliness epidemic that characterises several mental health conditions. The project includes different categories to address specific audience segments: Aging UnLonely, Campus UnLonely, Community UnLonely (for maginalised groups), and Workplace UnLonely. Each page includes a short film on the theme of loneliness, which are also included in the UnLonely Film Festival. Running every year, the festival consists of a curated collection of different perspectives and insights on loneliness. Short films are still available on the website (www.artandhealing.org/season6) and promoted on the project’s social media platforms, together with a set of questions and captions encouraging viewers to interact with the video in various ways.
“We created Project UnLonely to help reduce the stigma and burden of loneliness by encouraging people to tap into outlets for creative expression. Today, it is more timely than ever as people around the world struggle with the impact of social isolation. We hope the UnLonely Film Festival offers viewers an opportunity to learn, laugh, cry, smile, and, most importantly, connect.” – Dr. Jeremy Nobel, Founder & President of the Foundation for Art & Healing
- “B4Stage4” is a memorable initiative launched by Mental Health America to emphasise the crucial effect of early intervention and treatment in managing and reversing the progression of mental illness. The campaign was in part successful and remained relevant due to its unique hashtag, referring to Stage 4 of a mental health condition, which is the moment when the problem reaches a critical point – i.e. when symptoms become severe and unmanageable without support, significantly disrupting people’s lives. In extreme cases, this can lead to hospitalisation, notable deterioration in professional and academic performance, or homelessness. Identifying and treating early signs such as feeling low, anxiety, restlessness, avolition, irritability, or sleep disturbances can be extremely relevant to the evolution of the illness.
Here are some of their Facebook text posts:
“Did you know that it typically takes ten years from the first time someone has mental health concerns until they get a correct diagnosis and proper treatment? We can’t wait for that. Embrace #B4Stage4 thinking and support our efforts.”
“Prevention, early identification, and intervention, and integrated services work #B4Stage4! Help support MHA’s #B4Stage4 Campaign.”
“Break the chain! Support early identification, prevention, and intervention. People do recover #B4Stage4”
- Similarly, the #ActEarly campaign created by YoungMinds emphasised how crucial early intervention is when it comes to young people’s mental health. A concise, poignant, awareness-raising video ad produced by the organisation represented a wake-up call that garnered a lot of engagement by featuring young students expressing their dissatisfaction with the world’s tendency to invalidate and make light of the reality of their experiences, as well as the misconceptions regarding what mental health is all about and the overall ignorance surrounding the importance of prioritising it. In 2020, another video which generated significant engagement highlighted that, from 2010, the number of young people arriving in A&E because of a mental health problem had tripled.
A petition was shared on YoungMinds’ social media channels to bring people together to fight for the cause of improving mental health support in the UK. In 2019, over 70,000 people signed the petition in the hope that the government will introduce new strategies to allocate the right resources necessary to meet the rising demands for mental health support in young people.
Using the hashtag #ActEarly across all social media platforms, the campaign encouraged mental health professionals and organisations to share their perspectives and advice on early intervention in mental health problems as well. The initiative provided valuable information on early identification and tips on seeking treatment before reaching a crisis point.
- “Get Into Nature” is a mental health campaign by Change your Mind, a self-care incentive which focused on highlighting the importance of prioritising mental wellbeing by acknowledging the benefits of seeking solace in nature; including stress and anxiety-reducing properties, mood-boosting, and generally contributing to feelings of bliss and wellbeing.
The campaign offered resources and advice on how to maximise enjoyment in nature, including mindfulness exercises that focus on presence and the power of now and ways to engage with and appreciate the natural environment. A more general ultimate goal was that of removing stigma around the subject of mental health, which aligns with the core mission of Change your Mind.
The campaign incentivised communities to participate in the initiative by sharing their own experiences revolving around the positive influence of nature on mental health on their social media channels using the hashtag #GetIntoNature. Moreover, it also conveyed a message to mental health clinicians, to include nature into their therapeutic sessions.
- During Covid-19, “The Big Event for Mental Health” was an important campaign run by the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health on World Mental Health 2020 (10 October) in order to digitally raise awareness about the importance of investing in mental health, especially within the context of a pandemic. The campaign consisted of a variety of virtual resources and events that promoted mental health, as well as incentives to encourage people to support the cause and share their perspectives online using the hashtag #TheBigEvent to build a sense of global connection during difficult times.
The global online advocacy event was paired with another movement, the Speak your Mind campaign organised by United for Global Mental Health. This constituted the world’s first 24 hour virtual March for Mental Health, which encompassed a 24 hour livestream featuring conversations led by mental health clinicians, advocates, and humanitarian organisations. The theme at the heart of the #MoveforMentalHealth campaign was scaling up investment in mental health, thus people around the globe were actively encouraged to be vocal about this particular concern and address world leaders regarding funding for the cause. The participants were also encouraged to join the March by using the thematic social media filters which were activated by moving and virtually placed users side-by-side with other activists.
The success of this initiative was in part attributed to leveraging social media to appeal to and engage the global audience, as well as being mindful of the growing need for connection during a problematic time.
- The “Healthy Relationships” campaign by Mental Health Foundation was launched during Mental Health Awareness Week with the aim of raising awareness about the importance of relational harmony and the connection between relationships and mental health.
The campaign message pointed out the detrimental impact of toxic patterns of relating and promoted healthy, supportive relationships by emphasising the uplifting effect they can have on one’s psyche. This initiative helped people recognise toxic patterns in their relationships, as well as highlighting the importance of cultivating kindness, setting boundaries, managing conflict, and of using clear, open, effective communication in any relationship, as well as encouraging people to seek support by providing information, tools, and practical resources such as videos and guides on improving relationships. Emotional and relational safety should be considered to be just as important as physical safety. The Mental Health Foundation promoted the campaign and its resources on their social media channels, especially Instagram and Twitter. Social media users were encouraged to share their personal experiences on their channels.
Before initiating a mental health campaign, there are some key aspects we should be aware of, which have been successfully implemented in the aforementioned campaigns: A combination of gripping storytelling, emotionally moving authenticity, interactive content, and an abundance of prolific resources including practical tips are some of the ways in which we can add real value and make a change through mental health campaigns. Then, utilising social media to spread the message and engage people through powerful mission statements, hashtags, CTAs, and self-care challenges will help you achieve your main goals of raising awareness, making the mental health discourse more accessible, and helping people seek support and prioritise mental health, all whilst building a sense of community.
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