The Mental Health Crisis: What’s a Marketer To Do?
It’s no secret there’s a mental health crisis on our hands. Some would say that we’ve reached a point of peak therapy. Although our society is fluent in “therapy speak” — and conversations about anxiety, bullying, and depression are the norm — mental illness isn’t going away. In fact, it’s increasing.
This is a problem. In fact, it’s life or death. The life expectancy in our country is dropping because of mental and behavioral health. This is particularly true of substance use and suicide. More than 106,000 individuals in the U.S. died from drug-involved overdose in 2021. The suicide rate reached an all-time high in 2022. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among adolescents.
And while we all wait for public policy to change, for the availability of mental health providers to increase, and for insurers to broaden what qualifies as mental healthcare, as marketers we have an opportunity to make a change for mental health. As marketers, we can be patient advocates as we engage individuals facing mental illness and guide them to the resources they need. Here is a quick glance at some of the key numbers impacting the mental health crisis.
The Mental Health Crisis: By the Numbers
- An estimated 15 to 25 percent of older adults suffer from a behavioral health disorder.
- In 2020, the number of people living with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders increased by more than a quarter globally.
- One in 25 adults has a serious mental illness, such as major depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.
- Half of people worldwide can expect to experience a mental health disorder by age 75.
- Less than 31 percent of Gen Z individuals feel comfortable talking about their mental health.
- A 2019 national poll from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) found that mental health stigma is still a major challenge in the workplace.
- About half of workers were concerned about discussing mental health issues at their jobs, and more than one in three workers were concerned about retaliation or being fired if they sought mental health care.
- Our mental healthcare system is short an estimated 8,000 providers.
Three Ways Marketing Can Help Solve the Mental Health Crisis
1. Build partnerships.
Health brands can’t do it by themselves — collaboration is key. Collaboration may include partnerships with schools, churches, community organizations, or advocacy groups to spread mental health awareness. Mental health takes place in the “living moments”— the moments when people are living their day-to-day lives, not thinking about their health or healthcare. In these living moments, community groups typically have the most sway.
For example, through research led by Revive, Cincinnati Children’s and Mason City Schools teamed up to form a mental health program for K-12 students. This program was critical for both parties, as mental health challenges like anxiety were preventing students from learning, and Cincinnati Children’s was seeking more access points to serve kids across the community.
Collaboration can take many forms and many kinds of partners. Consider On Our Sleeves, a movement for children’s mental health spearheaded by Nationwide Children’s in collaboration with partners like Dayton Children’s, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Macy’s, Panera Bread, and others. On Our Sleeves is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization funded by partners who might otherwise be competitors — teamed up for an important cause.
If you’re a provider organization, consider starting a patient coalition, where patients with similar mental health struggles form an alliance via support groups and educational programs. The alliance would raise awareness, break stigma, and cultivate conversation — and ultimately, increase brand recognition for the organization. Marketers can supplement this effort by leading online forums or creating an educational online portal. Marketing has the power to bring people together.
2. Buck the norm.
The best campaigns stand for something bigger than the organization’s product or service. What if a health brand, instead of advertising for healthcare services, stood for mental health overall? Instead of bombarding its audience with service line marketing, a health system could incorporate mental health check-ins into their marketing campaigns, giving audiences a chance to catch their breath and check in on themselves.
At Revive, we’ve taken this approach through a campaign for Maine health system Northern Light Health. We asked Mainers a simple question: “How Are You?” To combat growing isolation and declining mental health in rural Maine, we sought to better connect the community to health, to each other, and to themselves. The singular question, “How Are You?” led to introspection, raising awareness of health resources and breaking the stigma of admitting when things aren’t going so well. “How Are You?” has become a powerful platform that started real dialogue about how Mainers really feel inside — physically, mentally, and emotionally.
As marketers, you can go beyond promoting mental health services to actually help people with their mental health. Marketing and communications can benefit health brands by providing educational content, positive messaging, support communities, product and service development, and consumer education. This educational content can break the stigma of mental illness and empower individuals to take control of their mental well-being. Marketing can also be used to promote and build online and offline communities where individuals can connect, share their experiences, and find support from others who may be going through similar challenges.
3. Build a content strategy.
The path to better mental health begins with authentic storytelling. Often, the most powerful message folks need to hear is you are not alone. This can take the form of mental health stories — video, podcasts, editorial, or social media. But storytelling doesn’t have to be linear. It can be even more powerful when it’s interactive. This could include closed forums, online support groups, or social communities. The health brand becomes a convener of mental health conversations — and not just the solution.
At Revive, we’ve done just that. To help improve the wellbeing of our nation’s nurses, Revive partnered with The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (the nation’s largest non-profit focused on health) to form a new brand to unite nurses in their struggles, share their insights, and, most importantly, tell their stories. “SHIFT” was born. An online community for nurses built on bones-deep authenticity, SHIFT is a place where nurses can wear their hearts on their sleeves and talk about the challenges they face both on and off shift. It’s a story-led platform: anchored by a podcast and long-form documentary and supported by a social community and web content.
Perhaps authentic storytelling begins with self-disclosure. We, as marketers and communicators, can use our own lived experiences to identify with our communities’ needs. When one person self-discloses, it invites others to do the same. There are millions of stories out there. We must tell them.
These are just some of the ways your health brand can take charge of the mental health crisis. Whether it’s a patient blog, social media post, paid advertising, or celebrity endorsement, through mental health marketing, we can spread awareness, break stigma, encourage treatment, improve wellbeing, start a movement, and yes — build your brand. This is not just a public health endeavor; this is an opportunity to authentically connect.
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