Do we need to sell mental health?

Next week we release our mental health focused campaign at Flinders called The Good Vibes Experiment. I’ll post on it once it is all up and running. 

A central feature of the campaign is encouraging people to experiment with adding mental health promoting activities to their everyday life. 

In the process, we had to think carefully about how to make those activities feel less like ‘therapy’ and more like desirable additions to a full and busy life. 

The way we approached the challenge was to use mental health professionals, communication designers and end users (students) to design the activities collaboratively. Each activity of the campaign went through multiple iterations of commentary and modification by all three groups. 

The whole process got me thinking. Do we (as mental health professionals) need to try harder to ‘sell’ mental health?

As mental health professionals we put our ideas out into a crowded information landscape. We’re up against many companies, organisations, governments who are similarly releasing ideas and products and services claiming to make people’s lives better, make them more successful. 

Many of those are promising comparatively quick and easy solutions to complex problems. In contrast, what we are offering typically involves some degree of sacrifice, hard work, mental effort and pushing into pain/discomfort. 

Now whilst what we are offering does (usually) have evidence and science on its side, on the surface it might be hard for our ideas to compete against those promising same results but with less effort. 

So do we need to sell our ideas better? How do we do this without compromising the integrity of the concepts? And if so, what would that look like?

I’ve sat in this question space for a while because of my involvement in the Visualising Mental Health (VMH) project and recently because of the upcoming mental health campaign at Flinders.

Those experiences have taught me there are ways to help our content rise above the information overload, but without compromising the integrity of what we do. 

Two important mechanics are fun/play and meaning.

Fun & play is critical to our psychological development – we accept/embrace this in childhood but not as much in adulthood. As such I think we’ve lost a valuable inroad for mental health content in adulthood. 

With the Good Vibes Experiment, I worked closely with a group of designers/ communication designers. I’d tell them about the therapeutic exercises that we know have value and scientific merit (e.g. GGIA) in bringing positive emotions into a person’s life. 

They’d then tell me what a playful take on that exercise would be. What that exercise would look like as a game or a puzzle or as an amusing narrative. We’d then bring students (end-users) onboard to test those playful versions and we’d iterate back and forth until we had exercises that remained playful but contained the core message of the original task. Play in this context served as an entry point into therapeutic concepts and activities. 

An example from the Good Vibes campaign is converting a discussion around values into a find-a-word exercise. 

Meaning is another lever we can use to help our content rise above the information fray. 

With meaning, we try to orient the exercise in a space that transcends the individual, by emphasising the value to the community or in supporting the ones they love. This shifts the focus away from that individual being therapised, and instead orients them as an active agent for positive change. Paradoxically, we reach the individual by not making it about the individual. 

An example from the Good Vibes campaign is converting internal gratitude exercises into a giving exercise.

These are just two mechanisms that those of us working in the space have in our toolkit that can help elevate what it is we are trying to communicate to the general public. And I don’t think we have even started in exploring the potential of these two mechanisms to greatly improve how we discuss mental health in the general public. 

What are your thoughts? Do we need to pay more attention to how we sell mental health? What are other levers that we can pull in helping to communicate important mental health concepts?

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