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A Deep Dive Into Our New Mental Health Initiative

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According to a recent Ad Council study, 49% of Americans 16 to 65 years old say they have a mental health condition, and of that group, only 48% are getting help or treatment. As the importance of prioritizing mental health for all increases, so does the need for leaders in the industry to use the power of communications to provide communities with the tools they need.

In response, the Ad Council has launched a $65 million, multiyear Mental Health Initiative in partnership with the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. Their $15 million lead contribution is the largest single donation in our history.

The new initiative will add to and expand upon the Ad Council’s existing mental health campaigns designed to reach a variety of age groups and communities. By providing resources tailored to each community, we tackle the barriers and normalize mental health conversations.

Read on for a look at the current campaigns that are now part of the Mental Health Initiative—and to learn more about the future campaigns that will soon launch as part of this historic and urgent effort.

Sound It Out (Middle School Mental Health)

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over half of lifetime mental illness begins before the age of fourteen. On average it takes ten years from the onset of symptoms to when individuals receive treatment. No one is exempt from struggling with mental health, especially our country’s youth. Particularly in communities of color and communities with a lack of mental health resources, adolescents face higher rates of mental health challenges. Thus, it has become crucial for kids and caregivers to initiate conversations with children early and often surrounding mental health.

Our Sound It Out campaign aims to help parents have more proactive, meaningful conversations about emotional wellbeing with their children. It can be hard to put thoughts and feelings into words, but music can take the pressure off caregivers and children to share how they feel. When they can’t say it, there’s probably a song that can. Sound It Out uses music as the language to unlock the barriers around mental health conversations through:

  • In-depth guides on how to navigate specific topics like anxiety, racism, and friendships
  • An album of original songs that can help explore difficult emotions and experiences
  • The Conversation Starter Pack (CSP), designed to create a space and provide tools for mental health conversations

To further encourage caregivers and children to normalize having conversations about mental health regularly, the campaign plans to collaborate with ITK Collective to distribute the Conversation Starter Pack (CSP) to schools across the country. By directing students, parents, teachers, and administrators to the CSP website, we aim to ensure that the mental health resources are reaching the communities who need them the most.

https://sounditouttogether.org/

Like and follow Sound It Out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay up to date on the resources prioritizing middle school mental health.

Campaign Partner: Pivotal Ventures

Seize the Awkward (Young Adult Mental Health)

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says that one in three young adults experience a mental illness, and one in four young adults experience a mental health challenge each year. Young adulthood is a difficult time in a person’s life, especially when they lack the tools or support to cope with the stress that comes along with major life changes. From leaving high school and beginning college to moving away from home and entering the workplace, it’s a period where mental health struggles frequently emerge. The uptick in stress can lead to a sense of feeling lost, lonely and overwhelmed.

However, the friends of those struggling with mental health issues can play an important role of support. Fortunately, 76% of young adults say they will turn to a friend in a time of crisis. Simply checking in, staying connected, and listening can improve a person’s mental health and wellbeing.

The Seize the Awkward campaign was created to encourage and empower young adults to reach out to a friend who they suspect may be struggling—even if it feels awkward at first. Having a conversation about mental health might be uncomfortable, but it can make all the difference in helping someone feel seen and supported. By providing tips, guides, and resources, the campaign motivates young adults to trust their instincts, take action, and talk to a friend.

Recognizing the need for culturally relevant content and resources for Black and Hispanic/Latine young adults, the Seize the Awkward campaign created "We Can Talk About It." The new PSAs, developed pro bono by award-winning creative agency and longtime partner Droga5, reflect the lived experiences of a diverse range of young people. Inspired by the insight that young people are surrounded by harmful messages around mental health, "We Can Talk About It" encourages them to counteract these messages by reaching out to friends who may be struggling.

The campaign also extends its message via variety of social channel and partnership activations:

  • Reddit Mega Thread: A breakdown of how to talk to friends about mental health
  • Snapchat Seize the Awkward Lens: An easy tool for young adults to check in with friends who might be struggling
  • “Real Talk” IG Live Series: A space where featured guests chat all things mental health each month
  • In September, students at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, produced a PSA featuring USC quarterback Caleb Williams and his fellow students, highlighting how important it is for college students to Check in on each other’s mental health
  • Meta Creative Shop partnership: A light-hearted content series sharing personal stories and mental health tips from IG creators

https://seizetheawkward.org/

Follow Seize the Awkward on Instagram to browse additional tips and resources for young adults

Campaign Partners: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Jed Foundation

Don’t Wait, Reach Out. (Veterans Crisis Prevention)

According to the 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the suicide rate among Veterans in 2020 was 57% higher than non-Veteran adults in the U.S. Tragically, more than 6,000 U.S. Military Veterans died by suicide in 2020. Stressful life events like divorce, job loss, substance use, or housing troubles can be risk factors for suicide.

Many Veterans battle with internal and external stigmas when it comes to seeking help, especially mental health services and support. Internally, Veterans can feel that they don’t deserve support because they believe other Veterans have faced worse circumstances. Externally, military culture can ingrain in Vets that they need to work through their struggles on their own, or view seeking help as a sign of weakness.

Our Don’t Wait, Reach Out campaign encourages Veterans to recognize that despite the challenges they are facing in life, they are not alone. The goal is for Veterans to reach out for help before their challenges become overwhelming or reach a point of crisis. The campaign’s website, VA.gov/REACH, makes finding guidance and support services more accessible for Veterans. The user-friendly experience invites Veterans to identify the specific life challenges they may be struggling with—like trouble sleeping or financial stress—then serves up the appropriate resources for their unique needs. The site also includes resources to those who are usually the first to notice that a Veteran is struggling—family and friends.

Since the fastest growing group of Veterans in the U.S. are women, and 65% of Veterans are over the age of 55, our latest PSAs focus specifically on reaching Women Veterans and Older Veterans. Each community faces unique struggles, so by creating films that resonate with them, we aim to open up the mental health conversation on their terms.

Browse resources for all Veterans at VA.gov/REACH. Visit Spread the Word to view our latest toolkit.

Campaign Partner: The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA)

Future Campaigns and the Road Ahead

As the above campaigns continue to connect their intended audiences with the tools they need, our upcoming campaign will dramatically expand the size and scope of our mental health efforts as part of our multiyear Mental Health Initiative.

Next year, we’ll launch new national campaigns designed to reach adults (particularly men), and we’ll also launch work specifically created to support Black, Hispanic, Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and LGBTQ+ communities. A few statistics that relay the urgent need:

  • Black (48%) and Hispanic (46%) adults are more likely than the general population (40%) to report anxiety and/or depression symptoms
  • The rate of LGBTQ+ teens who experience depressive symptoms is six times higher than heterosexual teens according to Mental Health America

In partnership with agencies who have deep expertise in the Black community (JOY Collective), Hispanic community (Latinovations) and the faith community (Values Partnerships), the Ad Council is developing a comprehensive “ground game” strategy to successfully reach and connect with each audience by collaborating with community-based organizations to develop relevant programs and utilizing the power of trusted messengers to provide mental health education programs, conduct events, and coordinate town halls.

This strategy incorporating both a classic Ad Council “air game” and a “ground game” at the community level will be structured similarly to our COVID-19 Vaccine Education Initiative, which ultimately reached 75% of Americans who were eligible to be vaccinated.

Additionally, a robust employer effort via the Health Action Alliance will be deployed to address mental health among America’s workforce. The Health Action Alliance is a joint initiative of the Ad Council, CDC Foundation, de Beaumont Foundation, National Safety Council and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—in partnership with Meteorite. With more than 4,000 participating companies, the Health Action Alliance provides free tools, training, best practices and events to help all employers support the mental health of their workforce.

Each community faces unique challenges, and each person has their own unique story. But we believe that by bringing together the brightest minds, the most creative talent and top mental health experts to authentically reach people where they are, we can connect them the tools they need and together we can accelerate impact on this urgent and critical issue.


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