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We Need a Better Brand

Mental health needs a better campaign. Breast cancer is a horrible disease, but they have identifiable pink ribbons and coordinating slogans such as, “Think Pink!” or “Screw Cancer!” How about the Susan G. Komen's “Think Pink Walk and Run”? A massive fundraiser for breast cancer! Nivea gave out dolls that turned red when exposed to the sun and had kids apply sunscreen to them. The sunscreen was able to “reverse” the damage of the sun’s rays teaching kids a lesson about skin cancer. That’s a fun way to learn about skin cancer. The ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease) Development Institute raised awareness of the illness and $135 million by starting the viral “ice bucket challenge”. Ever not shaved in November for the Movember Foundation? They support men’s health issues such as testicular and prostate cancer. LGBTQIA+ has a marvelous campaign of “It Gets Better” with stories about people’s lives improving. What comes to mind with mental illness? For me, it’s primarily promotions about reducing stigma. (I say this with a sigh.)

I’m not saying stigma isn’t an issue, but since COVID, the interest in mental health issues has been on an upswing. This is our best chance to build on the momentum! It will not last forever. Mental illness needs a rebrand. Where is our viral challenge that gets people raising money for the cause? How do we get people to wear green ribbons? Do most people even know what a green ribbon stands for?

I was speaking with a gentleman about depression the other day and when I suggested contacting NAMI (the National Alliance for Mental Illness) he looked blank. He had never heard of the organization. Indiana just launched their pilot program of “NAMI in the Lobby”. It’s a program where NAMI volunteers are in the hospital lobby where families are admitting their loved ones for psychiatric care. While in its infancy, it’s currently at one Indiana hospital. This program is available in other parts of the nation and it allows people to have immediate access to NAMI resources. This will help, but wouldn’t it be great if everyone just knew where to find great mental illness resources?

It would be ideal if mental illness got an overhaul. Instead of campaigns such as “Everyone has mental health” which seems more like someone’s pet peeve about semantics (I do get the education that people confuse mental health and mental illness, but wonder if that point is caught in the campaign or rather people more drifted towards the idea of mental health and self-care.) I’m equally as discouraged with “Stop the stigma”.

Homeland Security ran an antiterrorism call to action with “If You See Something, Say Something” but notice their slogan wasn’t “Stop Terrorism!”. Another effort was “Pledge to Be Stigma Free” (which was from NAMI and I love NAMI, so sorry!), but again, what is the emphasis? Stigma! I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t feeding the very beast we are fighting. Wouldn’t it be better to encourage people to come forward (as the LGBTQIA+ community has done with “It gets better”) and then address stigma inside the community vs confirming it repeatedly and often to the world at large?

I would love to see a campaign like, “Mental Health Treatment Requires Support”, “Sad People Shouldn’t Be Silent”, “Great Minds Seek Help” or even, “See a Doctor about Your Depression: You Wouldn’t Suffer in Silence with A Broken Leg”. Probably none of these, but you get the idea. People need a call to action vs 1) a vague reminder of the problem or, 2) someone letting them know there is judgment at a time they can’t stop judging themselves. This is not helpful.

I know most people are going to say, “What about education? This just addresses people who need help?” But if I am honest, if I look inside; I’m pretty comfortable where I am at with my beliefs and I am not on a vision quest. I find this to be true of most people I meet. I don’t look to change my beliefs unless I get uncomfortable or they no longer serve me. When I am sick, I am uncomfortable, so I go looking and I don’t want to be met with fear or fearmongering. I want to hear things that reaffirm my belief that I should be seeking support or assistance. I want to find resources.

So this is a call to action to start the next ice bucket challenge to raise money for KEY, NAMI, Mental Health America, or DBSA (whatever your favorite mental health non-profit). Think of a unique new slogan and get it trending. Whatever it takes to push stigma to the background and pull treatment to the foreground. (Or a challenge to kick off fundraising.) If we do not start stating that people need resources, assistance, and support, how will they know to stop suffering in silence? Right now, we are reinforcing the concept. ‘This illness has a stigma, be forewarned’ is the message we are putting out there. If our community does not take that action, who will?

(The image above is mine. If everyone would donate $1, we could help with research and getting resources to people. Plus, it’s fun! Add a “;” to your thumb and get people to ask what it means. Start a dialogue. We can create positive change.)

By: Meghan Albright

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