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Three campaigns that have helped break the stigma around mental health

At this uncertain and unsettling time, when people are unable to see loved ones or go about their usual routines, protecting our mental health is central in helping us to cope with the social and psychological impact of the coronavirus.

With communication more important than ever, charity campaigns and initiatives that champion acts of kindness and spark conversation – such as Mental Health Awareness Week – have the power to galvanise and encourage individuals, organisations and local communities to reach out and offer hope and guidance to people who might be at risk or are struggling.

Here are some of the most impactful campaigns and initiatives that I have seen launched in the past few years:

Heads Together
The founding of Heads Together – the mental wellbeing charity set up by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry – has been hugely influential in changing the national conversation on mental wellbeing. William and Harry opening up about their challenges with bereavement and grief was a pivotal moment in highlighting how mental health can affect anyone - irrespective of background, class or status, and that people shouldn’t be afraid to talk openly about their struggles.

To kickstart this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, Heads Together launched a simple yet effective campaign that involved The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge broadcasting a one-minute message simultaneously across every UK radio station, encouraging listeners to talk about their mental health and check in on family and friends.

Highlighting that the right voices and a clear call to action can deliver endless results, the Mental Health Minute was played to over 20 million people and backed by an array of famous faces including England captain Harry Kane, singer-songwriter Dua Lipa and heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, as well as inspiring mental health advocates, ambassadors and volunteers from charity partners.

Small Talk Saves Lives
Also focused on encouraging people to speak out about their challenges and spark verbal discussion, was the hard-hitting 2018 Small Talk Saves Lives Samaritans’ campaign. The campaign was in partnership with the British Transport Police and Network Rail and highlighted the importance of the ‘bystander’ in helping to prevent suicides, both on railway lines and in other everyday settings.

The campaign urged the public to trust their instincts and use small talk, such as chatting about the weather, to engage with someone who could be experiencing negative or suicidal thoughts. The overarching message of the campaign was that everyone has the power to help someone in need, and potentially save a life – all it takes is conversation.

The campaign was simple, yet sensitive, making for a memorable, impactful and universally engaging call to action that resonated widely with media and the general public. The campaign reached one in three adults and more than 17 million people on social media, with 5.7 million watching the video. It was nominated for six awards in the PR industry, and rightly so – research conducted since the campaign ran found that 49 per cent of people felt an increased or reinforced intent to act if they noticed someone who looked in distress. 

Project 84
Verbal dialogue doesn’t actually need to be the central component for an effective charity campaign to encourage people to open up. This has been illustrated by the hugely powerful, but simple Project 84, which was created in 2018 by Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) to spark conversation about male suicide.

To raise awareness of the fact that 84 men commit suicide in the UK every single week, 84 sculptures were unveiled on top of ITV’s London buildings on South Bank. Each figure represented a man who had taken his own life, with each man’s story, as told by his friends and family, available to read on the Project 84 website.

The campaign saw a 34% rise in the number of people using CALM’s helpline and their services and they hit 80% of the sign-up levels from the entire previous year within just three days of the campaign launch. To add to the momentum, a petition calling for a Government minister to take on official responsibility for suicide prevention and bereavement support received 400,000 signatures. Six months later, a Minister for Suicide Prevention was appointed by the Government.

Project 84 has all the components that demonstrate how much impact a well-executed, emotive yet simple campaign can have. Taking a stat that the charity lives and breathes and visually bringing it to life couldn’t have had a greater impact. 

What’s been so special about all of these campaigns is that at their core they all have a very simple message, with a clear call to action, designed to resonate with anyone who is struggling or who knows someone who is.

Whether it’s through harnessing celebrity status to reinforce the message that anyone can experience mental health struggles, or capturing people’s imagination and emotions through powerful stunts; increasing awareness and driving conversation on a mass scale have always been – and will continue to be – fundamental tactics in helping to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. All that remains, is for people to listen.

Written by Shelley Frosdick, divisional managing director PR agency The PHA Group

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