Time to leverage PR to help break down cultural barriers about mental health

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention vice president of communications Stephanie Coggin on how mental health and PR can intersect.

Time to leverage PR to help break down cultural barriers about mental health

When it comes to fighting suicide, raising mental health awareness is key. One of the biggest challenges the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention faces is how to get more people to seek treatment for mental health conditions – the leading risk factor for suicide.

Only one in five people suffering from a mental health condition seeks treatment. Misconceptions about mental health create barriers to treatment for those suffering from these illnesses. Consider how casually people throw around words like insane, crazy, or OCD. To break down barriers, we need to create a culture where people treat the issue just as seriously as their physical health.

So when May Mental Health Awareness month approached, we wanted to spread the word through a PR awareness effort focused on social media. We created a Did You Know campaign of shareable infographics with mental health facts. They’ve been liked 2,000 times on Instagram, seen more than 50,000 times on Twitter, and reached over a million people on Facebook.

To rally support for more suicide prevention research, we created an infographic showing federal research funding for leading causes of death. It garnered 10,000 likes and tweets, with help from the The Huffington Post’s mental health editor, Dr. Lloyd Sederer, and former ABC News health reporter Liz Neporent.

The foundation’s chief medical officer, Dr. Christine Moutier, wrote a piece for USA Today on mental health in the work-place, and our VP of research, Dr. Jill Harkavy-Friedman, wrote a piece for WebMD about chronic pain and mental health. We also hosted a Twitter chat with Ursula Whiteside, suicide researcher and cofounder of NowMattersNow.org, an online suicide intervention website. The chat generated more than 3 million impressions.

We had some help from our friends, too. During our annual Lifesavers Gala, held to honor exceptional service in suicide prevention, @AFSPNational tweets were seen 42,000 times.

NBA star Ryan Anderson posted to his followers on social channels, while actor Aaron Paul used Periscope to broadcast live from the event, reaching millions. We also released Signs Matter: Early Detection, an online education program, which was featured in Education Week’s Rules of Engagement blog.

We still have a long way to go, but mental health is an area where communications can create lasting change in our society.

Stephanie Coggin is VP of communications for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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