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#StigmaFree Mental Health Marketing Requires Ubuntu

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

By: Kristin Parran Faulder Principal at Heurisay May is Mental Health Awareness Month – a time to take a minute (or more) to think about its magnitude. With 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiencing mental illness each year, there are very few people not directly impacted by it.

As a communicator, I can’t think of a better way to participate in #MentalHealthMonth than by sharing best practices and success stories about how to talk about mental health effectively and respectively. I was honored to have the opportunity to sit alongside the experts themselves – marketers and communicators across health systems, non-profit organizations, and treatment centers – at the inaugural Mental Health Marketing event to do just that.

It Starts with Ubuntu There’s really no better way to talk or think about mental health marketing than the concept of Ubuntu, or a connectedness that exists among people (check out Boyd Varty’s TED talk for more). Keynote speaker Susanna Sung introduced the “humanism-centric” concept as she kicked off the two-day event, reminding the audience that quite possibly the most important thing about being a marketer is never forgetting our connectedness to each other.

Beyond Ubuntu: The Challenges for Mental Health Marketers Every industry has its own nuances, and mental health is no different. But in order to connect and build trust with your audience, it’s important to recognize the subtleties before you start developing a program.

For those in mental health, some of the biggest concerns today include:

  • Tone. As marketers, we often like to come up with big, bold, creative ideas. While those should still be a part of what you do, it is important to find the right balance between the serious nature of mental health and the “creative” side of marketing.

  • New tools. As in every industry, new tools are introduced all the time, making the old approaches seem ancient and irrelevant. While this can seem overwhelming and paralyzing, it’s good to keep in mind that just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it’s better or right for your program. Focus on the audience, not the methodology.

  • HIPAA. There’s no getting around it – HIPAA is restrictive. But, like all industries that have restrictions, marketers just need to figure out how to work within them. If you don’t feel confident, get someone who does and learn from them. Soon, you’ll be an expert and free to roam (within the fences, of course).

  • Data. For every marketer, access to data is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. It’s how and when to use that data that is a challenge for most organizations. Once you feel confident within HIPAA, start small and strategic. Test once. And then test again. You’ll find that every time you get closer to the right mix for your audience, your program, and your organization.

Thinking Bigger: Chipping Away at the Stigma Mental health marketers have another very important job: decreasing the stigma. While it’s not something that happens overnight, there are some things we can all do today to make a big difference tomorrow.

  • Educate. Awareness is a powerful tool to get rid of stigmas and misperceptions. As a tool, consider video; it has amazing storytelling ability.

  • Connect. People want to know there’s someone out there with the same experience(s). As marketers, it’s our job to facilitate those connections by providing the right information, leveraging the best channels, etc.

  • Understand. Listen and ask questions if there’s something you don’t understand. Grasping nuances will build trust.

Telling Your Story At the Mental Health Marketing event, a number of great experts – including @erinsinsidejob, @plpepper, and @ColtonMul – shared thoughtful insights for building effective and successful programs. Here’s a snapshot:

  • Find a trusted partner. Online ad campaigns can be extremely successful, but if you’re working with the wrong partner, they can also be extremely damaging to your brand. Make sure you’re working with a team you can trust.

  • Review and update your website regularly. When dealing with mental health facilities, your information must be up to date.

  • Proactively manage reputation. A lot of action is happening on review sites such as Yelp. This presents opportunities for marketing to come in and help manage your audience’s experience with the brand.

  • Leverage multiple channels. Utilize social media, written content, and videos. Each channel has a different and unique purpose and will engage your audiences where they are.

  • Be real. Get rid of clinical language, and make everything you say easy to understand.

  • Empathize without alienating. Remember: Every story is unique and different.

  • Create and share quality content. Conversations only happen if you’re offering something of value.

As Mental Health Month comes to an end, it’s up to us to carry the torch. As marketers, it’s important to remember to hold onto our creativity. It can be easy to look to our competitors to see what they’re doing and simply mirror them. But that’s rarely the way to stand out – and definitely not the way to become #StigmaFree.

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