How Brands Can Support Mental Health — Both In and Out of the Workplace

By Sarah Fogel

Mental health is one of the most important, yet overlooked, topics that organizations and brands should address. And yet due to stigma, lack of understanding and other factors, championing mental health and advocating for solutions presents its challenges. However, employees and consumers are increasingly looking to businesses to help address societal issues, including mental health. In fact, 83% of respondents in a recent June 2022 Weber Shandwick/KRC Research poll said it is important for companies to prioritize mental health and wellness of employees.

So, how exactly can brands do their part? This article explores the context of our mental health crisis, including some bright spots in our fight for greater support and ways in which businesses and brands can get involved.

The pandemic exacerbated the mental health crisis

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression has increased by 25%. Suicidal ideation also increased significantly in adults across the U.S. and 37% of U.S. high school students reported regular mental health struggles, with higher rates of sadness and hopelessness found in LGBTQ+ and female students. The crisis became so severe during the pandemic that the U.S. Surgeon General and several accredited psychology organizations declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.

But even before the pandemic, people in the U.S. faced significant mental health challenges. In fact, between 2009–2019, more than 1 in 3 high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness and in 2019, 50 million adults in the U.S. were experiencing a mental illness. To put it simply, we’re exhausted.

It’s not hard to see why. The number and scale of existential crises that consistently impact peoples’ lives and drive news and conversation is overwhelming. From global health tragedies to extreme social isolation, altered home, school and work routines, human rights violations against community groups, the urgency of climate change, ongoing wars across the globe and growing political polarization, social inequities and misinformation — there is more than enough to cope with today.

Introducing 988

One positive development from an increased spotlight on this crisis is the new collaborations across governments, NGOs, companies and brands. Organizations are working together to provide broader access to support, target injustices and defeat stigma.

Most recently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the U.S. changed its number from 1–800–273–9255 to 988 in an effort to make it easier for people to remember the number and access mental health services when in crisis. The introduction of 988 was a huge moment of celebration for mental health advocates. With proper funding and additional infrastructures, the potential power of this number to support more people and truly save lives is endless.

And while 988 is certainly not perfect, its development presents an opportunity to create an even better system of care — one that prioritizes equity, especially among BIPOC communities. Despite the fact that mental illness is not a crime, police officers are most often the first responders to 911 calls related to behavioral health crises in the U.S. And even when officers have adequate training in this area, the mere presence of a uniformed officer can exacerbate feelings of distress for those experiencing behavioral health issues, especially those from marginalized communities. Since 2015, nearly a quarter of all people killed by police officers in America have had a known mental illness.

The passage of 988 is clear progress — but there is still more we can collectively do to defeat stigma, provide effective and efficient access to resources across marginalized communities and ultimately resolve the mental health crisis.

Three ways companies can get involved

Governments and nonprofits play a clear role in changing the landscape of the mental health crisis given their current involvement in a variety of communities. But brands and corporations have a valuable role to play in resolving this crisis, too. And more importantly, they can — and should — act now.

Start internally with employee resources.

Brands that support consumer-facing mental health campaigns should first begin by providing their own employees with the resources needed to thrive. Some actions include creating employee resource groups, providing healthcare-funded therapy and meditation, instituting flexible work schedules and providing a livable wage for employees. Brands can also consider instituting a Corporate Wellness Program Manager to provide oversight on all things mental health and ensure that employees have ample resources to maintain support and connection.

Avoid purpose-washing and provide genuine support.

Consumers are paying increased attention to social impact-related steps taken by companies — they want to see and be consumers of brands that are deeply involved in supporting their communities. But some brands have been known to purpose-wash campaigns and consumers are growing wary of that. Businesses should not support mental health because it’s “trending.” They should because it’s critical to both employee and business overall health — and because it authentically aligns with a brand’s mission and purpose commitments.

Partner to take action now.

As a brand, if you’re looking to engage in the mental health conversation, consider collaborative opportunities. Here are a few examples to consider:

  • Provide funding for critical, cross-collaborative services. For example, multiple nonprofits are working together to train counselors for 988 and the U.S. government is working to increase funding. For 988 to work successfully, there must be enough trained counselors to provide support. Brands can make a critical difference here.
  • Use your consumer behavior expertise and launch a creative awareness campaign. Mental health is one of the areas in which awareness campaigns prove highly impactful. Because stigma is one of the largest barriers to accessing mental health services, a creative PSA can be truly successful in changing hearts and minds. And to provide prolonged support on this issue, companies can pair this type of campaign with a purpose-driven investment in a mental health research institution.
  • Meet diverse communities where they are. When focusing on expanding access to treatment, creating holistic prevention programs or investing in social connection and specific communities, it is imperative to keep in mind where those communities will most effectively receive these kinds of communications. For example, if a brand is looking to support kids’ mental health, they need to meet kids where they are — in schools. But if a brand is looking to support adult mental health, they might look to provide campaigns and resources in a work setting. Shaping bottom-up strategies guided by specific communities themselves is imperative to truly addressing their needs, challenges and expectations.

Brands are uniquely positioned to change the conversation around mental health. They have a strong pulse on consumer behavior and the right platforms to elevate the kinds of awareness campaigns that can and will make a difference. But more than this, by partnering with governments and NGOs, brands have an ability to fund the projects of those already doing the work. Governments, NGOs and nonprofits have expertise in meeting diverse communities where they are — and brand and corporate funding will only help to build capacity for these existing programs.

Efforts need to be streamlined, biases need to be addressed, stigma must be confronted and we need to create more effective, supportive crisis intervention services.

And there’s no time like the present to start making an impact.

Sarah Fogel

Author

Senior Associate of Client Experience, Social Impact

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