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Mental health campaigns are on the rise – and it’s not hard to see why. The past few years have upended our lives, and with a cost of living crisis now upon us, it really feels like we can’t catch a break. It’s been a rough ride, to say the least. 

From the 12 markets included in our Zeitgeist data, 37% of people are under financial strain, while 30% are struggling to find a work-life balance.  

Our annual Connecting the dots report takes a deep dive into the emerging consumer trends of 2023, many of which are intrinsically linked to consumers’ mental health and wellbeing, and what they’re doing to protect it:

  • The new American dream: US consumers are trading lofty ambitions for stability and financial security, owing to the mounting cost of living crisis
  • Shake it off: Americans are turning to media as a form of catharsis and an outlet for their emotions
  • Buy now, save the planet later: Consumers are overwhelmed. Many are actively switching off from current affairs and global society as an act of self preservation

Some of the stats included within our report paint a telling picture of the heaviness many people are feeling:

  • 15% of US consumers say they’re never satisfied with their life, up 6% from last year – and one of the fastest-growing sentiments in the US
  • In April 2022, a quarter of Americans said they were spending less time reading the news to manage their mental wellbeing
  • More generally, interest in news, politics, social issues and current events has declined in over 90% of our tracked countries since 2020 

Against this backdrop, it’s no surprise consumers around the world have made looking after themselves – and their mental health – a priority. 

Brands are showing their support for this shift, too, with a series of successful mental health campaigns for their customers and employees. 

In fact, a growing number of organizations are adopting initiatives centered around improving employees’ mental wellbeing. Many have introduced mental health apps, flexible hours, and even shorter working weeks in a bid to improve employee wellbeing. Shopify is one of the latest in a long list of companies to take aim at unnecessary meetings, axing thousands of events from employees’ calendars in a move to boost productivity and reduce burnout. 

Global vacation weeks began to trend back in 2021 as a way to combat company-wide burnout. Bumble employees had a paid week off, and Nike shut its offices, with LinkedIn, The New York Times, and even Google following suit. In 2022, PwC gave employees two company-wide week-long breaks in additional vacation time. On shutting down completely for two weeks, PwC senior partner and U.S. Chair Tim Ryan said ““No doubt about it, this works”. 

In short, even when you’re on holiday, your working life ticks away without you, leading to FOMO, sneaky email checking, and out-of-office paranoia. But if the entire assembly line decides to pause, you can too.

Meanwhile, our data shows over 1 in 5 Gen Zs feel overworked, the highest of any generation in Q3 2022. This rises to nearly 1 in 4 in the US (24%).

5 successful mental health campaigns to know about in 2023 

  1. Mind – If this speaks to you, speak to Mind 
  2. ITV – Britain, get talking 
  3. CALM – Suicidal doesn’t always look suicidal 
  4. NFL – My Cause, My Cleats x Kicking the Stigma
  5. Walkers – It feels good to share

For consumers, mental health awareness campaigns aren’t necessarily efforts to win business, they’re brand-building exercises in standing up for the things that really matter. They can also be a way of building brand loyalty, speaking from the heart, and authentically connecting with consumers. 

Plus, our data shows that consumers, particularly younger audiences, generally like these types of campaigns: 73% of Gen Z support mental health messaging in ads.

Here are 5 mental health campaign examples to take notes on – and a rundown of what made them so successful.

1. Mind – If this speaks to you, speak to Mind

It’s easy to feel alone and like no one understands you. Mental health charity, Mind, acknowledges those very human feelings of isolation and being misunderstood in its campaign ‘If this speaks to you, speak to Mind ’. 

The campaign comprises four short films in which poets tell the stories of others through spoken word. We hear from artists Jords, Lola, James, and Adaith as they share the stories of Rohan, Haleem, Mel, and Gethin. The idea was to show how different people speak about their experiences, and how everyone’s experiences of mental health problems are different. 

The insight 

1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England. The WHO estimates that globally, 5% of adults suffer from depression.

According to our own data, 29% of Gen Zs, and 24% of millennials say they’re prone to anxiety, and in the US, 15% of Gen Z say they’re currently experiencing depression. This generation is disproportionately affected by depression in the US; they’re 41% more likely than the rest of the population to experience it.

The ‘If this speaks to you’ campaign was created to challenge the way we speak about mental health, and listen to the stories of others. 

The message 

The core message of the campaign? Whatever your experience is, it’s important to reach out for help. 

“We all experience and talk about mental health differently. But we aren’t always listened to. And we aren’t always represented.” – Mind.    

The films work to show that even if you feel alone, or think ‘there’s nobody like me’, there are others experiencing the same things you are. By sharing these real stories, Mind helps to normalize mental health problems, and encourage people to come forward to access support. 

Why it worked 

Mind paired people suffering from mental health issues with different artists, who then created 30 second written word poems from their stories. Mel, who has experienced issues with bulimia, emotionally unstable personality disorder, depression, and anxiety, was paired with James from Yard Act, who brought her story to life. 

Mel said: “He managed to turn my whole story which I could talk about for hours and hours, into a 30-second video. That is talent! I can’t thank James enough for doing that for me. Not just because he’s part of Yard Act but because he has put real emotion into telling my story. It’s more than words on a piece of paper. It’s a story, it’s awareness, it’s a life. I really hope it helps people, and I really hope I can help people.”

The format in particular was a huge success. Stripped back and impactful, spoken word is a poignant medium for delivering a very powerful message. 

2. ITV – Britain, get talking

In 2022, ITV released the latest installment of its Britain, get talking mental health ad campaign. The ad depicts a conversation between a father and daughter after she’s had a bad day at school. Subtitles are used to illustrate the gap between what they’re saying and thinking, showing how difficult it can be for young people to open up. After a slow start, there’s a breakthrough, and the daughter finally tells her dad what’s on her mind. 

The insight 

Mental health issues in young people are at an all time high. More than 400,000 young people in the UK are being treated for mental health problems. 

According to our data, 29% of Gen Z are prone to feeling anxious – 16% more likely than the average person. In the US this rises to 44% of Gen Z – 73% more likely than the average person. 

While mental health has become a key topic of conversation in recent years, that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to talk about it. Just 32% of internet users say they’re comfortable talking about their mental health, showing there’s still some way to go. 

The message

Conversations about our feelings and mental health can be difficult, but they need to happen. This campaign highlights the importance of persevering with difficult conversations, encouraging adults to ‘keep trying’ with their children to get them talking. 

Why it worked

This ad illustrates the difficulties many adults face when trying to enter into conversations with children and young people about their mental health. This campaign offers a realistic and sensitive depiction of the struggles many parents face on a regular basis. It’s empathetic and relatable for so many, which makes it so successful. 

“Exploring the gap between what we say and how we feel felt an important conversation to bring to bear, especially when it comes to the young people in our lives. Since launching Britain Get Talking with ITV it has become the UK’s most recognised mental health campaign and started over 100 million conversations.” says Nils Leonard, Co-founder at Uncommon, the creative studio behind the film. 

3. CALM – Suicidal doesn’t always look suicidal

Suicide prevention charity CALM launched their ‘Suicidal doesn’t always look suicidal’ campaign in June 2022. This campaign took the form of a video ad and a physical installation on London’s Southbank of 50 portraits of people who have lost their lives to suicide. The video is a compilation of their last moments taken by their loved ones, showing them smiling, laughing, and seemingly, happy.

The insight 

125 die by suicide every week in the UK. 

CALM’s suicide prevention campaign was designed to highlight how difficult, and in some instances, impossible it is to spot when someone is struggling, and at risk of taking their own life. It encourages people to save a life by removing the stigma around mental health, and making it part of everyday conversation. 

The message 

CALM’s mission was to show that people may not seem how they appear on the outside.

Starting conversations around suicide can make it easier for people to ask for help; talking saves lives. 

“At a time of economic and social unrest it’s even more important that we put suicide prevention back on the national agenda,” said CALM CEO Simon Gunning.

One of the key messages of the campaign is that CALM is there to provide people with the tools they need to start a potentially life-saving conversation. They also provide important information on potential signs to look out for that may indicate someone needs support, even if they appear happy on the surface. 

Why it worked

CALM’s campaign served to remind us that suicide happens to ordinary people from all walks of life. The home-footage style of the compilation reinforces this message. There are personalities and stories behind the faces shown in the installation, and in the video. 

During the pandemic, hearing daily death tolls became the norm for many, creating a desensitization to death, which agency business director Louis Lunts wanted to challenge with this campaign. Lunts said: “After two years of daily updates, we knew the country was sick of grappling with death as a number. We needed a new way to demonstrate the tragedy of suicide. Less mathematical, more human.”

This 90-second ad campaign was so raw and emotive that it attracted criticism for some viewers, who complained it was ‘irresponsible and distressing’, suggesting it shouldn’t be shown before the 9pm watershed. CALM responded, explaining the campaign was intended to challenging: “society’s standards around suicide need to be challenged and that was what the ad and their organisation intended to do”.

4. NFL – My Cause, My Cleats x Kicking the Stigma

This campaign by the NFL encouraged players to customize the cleats on their boots to represent a cause close to their heart. As part of this initiative, several Indianapolis Colts chose Kicking the Stigma, a foundation dedicated to raising awareness of mental health, and removing the stigma around it. 

One of the players supporting Kicking the Stigma was Jelani Woods, who has a very personal connection to the cause, after 3 of his former teammates died in a shooting on the University of Virginia campus in November 2022. He explained how the Colts’ mental health initiative and Kicking the Stigma supported him after their deaths: “There’s a lot of resources out there, but as individuals it’s hard to get into those resources,” Woods said. “One thing I found, which makes sense, is the notion of most coaches or people try to say, fight through adversity, fight through the mental part of the game. But a lot of things are hard to fight through and you need somebody to lean on.”

The insight

In support of the campaign, Indianapolis Colts Vice Chairman/Owner Kalen Jackson tweeted statistics from National Alliance on Mental Illness that show the scale of the problem in US:

  • 1 in 5 US adults experience mental illness each year
  • More than half of people with a mental health condition in the US did not receive any treatment last year
  • 1 in 6 US youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year

The message 

The key message from the Indianapolis Colts players supporting Kicking the Stigma is that there’s no shame in having mental health problems, and it’s okay to talk about it. Whoever you are, and whatever your background, everyone can experience mental health issues in their life. 

Julian Blackmon, one of the players supporting the initiative said: “I just hope that people see that whether you’re in the NFL or working a 9 to 5, we all have this problem.”

The NFL players encouraged people to come forward and share how they’re feeling, and break the stigma around mental health. 

Why it worked

This campaign featured high-status sports stars with huge social media followings talking about mental health and reflecting on their own experiences. That’s why it really hit home the message that mental illness doesn’t discriminate. 

The NFL is the most watched or followed sporting league/event in the US across all generations: 

  • 28% of Gen Z watch/follow
  • 39% of Millennial watch/follow
  • 47% of Gen X watch/follow 
  • 49% of baby boomers watch/follow

With such high domestic engagement, it serves as a really great platform to speak to all generations about mental health in a more informal way.  

For young people in particular, Gen Z are 44% more likely to find friend/peer advice/recommendations important when choosing health treatments. As a result, they may be more likely to tune into seeking help with their mental health when it comes from someone that inspires them, like an NFL player as opposed to from a healthcare professional. 

The campaign combined visual representation of the colorful designs on the cleats with a social media campaign, and a round of press interviews in which individual players spoke candidly about their cause and its importance. The cleats were then entered into an auction, with 100% of the proceeds going to the players’ chosen causes. 

5. Walkers – It feels good to share

This seasonal mental health campaign is set around Christmas time, a time of heightened stress and anxiety for many. It follows Larry who is attending a festive get-together alone, as he navigates different interactions with friends and family. A cartoon behind Larry depicts how he’s really feeling. 

The campaign speaks to the pressure many of us feel to ‘show up’ and smile, particularly during the holidays.

The insight

According to research by Walkers, 52% of the UK public feel additional pressure to be happy and pretend everything is OK at Christmas.

‘It feels good to share’ seeks to encourage people to open up about how they’re really feeling, and to check on others over the festive period. 

The message 

While Christmas is a joyous time for most, Walkers wants us to remember those who find it a lonely and confronting time of year. It also encourages people to press further when a loved one says they’re fine, and push for them to share their true feelings – the age-old ‘how are you really?’ question goes a long way, and asking twice makes a difference.

“We know that Christmas can be a challenging time for many, and the pressure to appear positive and pretend everything is ‘fine’, even if it’s not, is particularly strong at this time of year,” said Philippa Pennington from Walkers.

Why it worked

This campaign manages to strike the right balance between being humorous and delivering an important message. There is a playfulness and familiarity to the ad with comical Christmas jumpers and awkward conversations with family members that will feel familiar to many.  

What makes a good mental health campaign?

So what do these mental health ads all share that make them so successful? Here’s a few things they have in common:

  1. They’re authentic

Featuring real people, real stories, or real events that we can all relate to, all of these campaigns feel genuine, and are sensitively executed. Mind worked directly with volunteers with mental health issues, and CALM engaged families and loved ones of suicide victims, which adds extra poignance to these campaigns. 

  1. They’re guided by data 

The best mental health campaigns draw attention to what’s happening right now, and they’re backed up by stats. When the story is led by true insights, it’s much harder to go wrong. 

Our data shows that younger people are most likely to experience mental health issues (16% more likely than the average person to say they’re prone to anxiety), and are overwhelmingly in support of mental health messaging in ads (73% say this), highlighting they’re an important, and likely receptive audience to target. ‘Britain, get talking’, ‘If this speaks to you, speak to mind’ and ‘It’s good to share’ do this well, featuring young people as key characters in their ads. 

  1. They all include a clear message and call to action

There’s a red thread that runs through each mental health campaign we’ve highlighted: we need to normalize talking about mental health, and help is available. It’s a simple, but impactful message. 

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*This article has been updated. It was originally published in August 2019.

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