Ad Council pledges $65 million to mental health awareness effort

The nonprofit is mobilizing the advertising, media and marketing industries to address a national crisis.

Half of American adults say they have a mental-health condition. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

The mental health crisis is one of the biggest healthcare crises facing America.

With rates of anxiety or depression and suicidal thoughts worsening among both adults and youth during the pandemic, the country is grappling with a full-scale mental health catastrophe, one which touches most people, either directly or indirectly.

Understandably, that crisis deserves a proportionate response from the marketing industry. 

To that end, the Ad Council launched a multimillion-dollar Mental Health Initiative this week that will enlist a range of partners for communications campaigns and other resources on a national basis.

The initiative, designed to encourage more people to seek support for their mental-health challenges, is backed by a founding gift of $15 million from Huntsman Mental Health Institute and has a goal of $65 million over the next seven years.

The effort comes on the heels of the nonprofit’s national COVID-19 Vaccine Education campaign, which it claims reached more than 75% of those eligible to be vaccinated.

Mirroring its COVID-19 approach, the Ad Council is planning a coalition-based and multi-audience model. Mental health non-governmental organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychological Association and National Alliance on Mental Illness have signed on.

“Together, we’re uniquely poised to reshape the conversations around mental health and help millions of Americans when they need it most,” stated Ad Council CEO Lisa Sherman.

In addition to discreet communications campaigns, the Mental Health Initiative aims to be multi-pronged and will include such resources as an “insights and analytics engine” to inform and evaluate the impact of relevant content. There will also be open-source partner toolkits, a “trusted messenger” program, employer-workplace resources and grassroots community activations.

Despite its critical importance, mental well-being hasn’t drawn the same level of attention from industry as other health issues. 

The Ad Council’s initiative is off to a promising start in that regard, having already tapped a number of partners throughout the media and marketing sectors to amplify its content. 

Media companies and platforms, from Amazon Ads, Audacy and FOX to Google, YouTube, TikTok, NBCUniversal and Paramount, are expected to donate media time and space to support the effort.

Stimulating demand, though, is just one issue. Access is another. More than a third of people, for instance, live in communities lacking sufficient numbers of mental-health providers. This shortage of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other counselors and therapists is a sizable obstacle.

There’s also a social stigma associated with getting treatment for mental illness. That promises to ease somewhat, since a U.S. task force recommended screening all adults for anxiety. 

Taking another page out of its COVID-19 playbook, the Ad Council plans a culturally sensitive approach to reaching communities of color.

It has tapped agencies that have deep expertise in the Black community (JOY Collective), Hispanic community (Latinovations) and the faith community (Values Partnerships) to assist. Other cultural partners include community-based organizations like UnidosUS and trusted messengers to provide mental-health education programs, conduct events and coordinate town halls.

Convincing people to take a proactive approach to their mental health issues won’t be easy, the Ad Council acknowledged. 

Coinciding with its announcement, research conducted by the nonprofit this year shows that nearly half of Americans ages 16 to 65 say they have a mental-health condition. But of those who report a condition, only 48% say they’re getting help or treatment and 43% don’t feel comfortable talking to people close to them about their emotions.

Still, other studies suggest people are already beginning to have those conversations. While the significant jump in awareness creates a tailwind, the Ad Council’s wide-reaching initiative will require nothing less than changing social norms around this long-neglected health issue.

This story first appeared on MM+M.

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