Be loud about mental health

By Kelly Boudwin, Minerva Strategies –

It’s that time of year again – back to school. I remember feeling anxious and excited about starting school – new teachers, new classes, reuniting with friends – all summed up in an overused cliché: “a new year, a new you.” But for most kids the idea of starting another year is trumped by anxiety, depression, and potentially trauma and grief. In fact, five million students return to school this year affected by some form of mental illness that will go unnoticed and untreated.

So why aren’t we hearing about this? It should be the topic of political banter, a teacher’s conversation with their student, and something families should not take too lightly when their kid is silent at the dinner table. Communication is key to addressing the mental health taboo known as the silent epidemic.

What’s all the hush about?

Mental health is a taboo topic. It alludes to weakness and character deficiencies, so we as humans are taught never to talk about it – ever. In reality, a mental health disorder is a condition that disrupts a person’s mood, thought, or behavior, often over a long period of time. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, depression and anxiety have been in the top 10 causes of disability and death in the United States for two decades, with suicide closely following behind at number 11.

Mental illness is a silent epidemic plaguing our schools, and robbing the younger generation of their full human potential. Inevitably kids miss out on opportunities for learning and building relationships.

Identifying solutions

With a problem this big, coming up with a solution anytime soon looks grim but we have to start somewhere. I’ve decided to drop the pessimistic perspective and embrace the Minerva Strategies mantra: Smart communication inspires action and creates positive change. In other words, I’m looking at the challenges and stigma of mental illness as a PR enthusiast.

Here are a few PR strategies to help identify solutions and break the silence of mental illness:

1. Create a clear and concise message: With every client, Minerva assesses the clarity of an organization’s goal, and how they plan to achieve that goal. The same can be applied to the challenges and stigmas surrounding mental health. Let’s reframe the messaging to alleviate stigma. Starting with mental health = physical health, so that the next generation grows up knowing that mental health is a key component of overall health. There is no shame in seeking out care.

2. Identify your target audience: Minerva recommends that clients identify and invest in their target audience. It’s more effective to spend time and resources on an audience that will help you achieve your goal, rather than trying to reach everyone. Right now we have little to zero resources when it comes to mental health. Working with very little, communities should invest in teachers, counselors, nurses, families, and policy influencers – all key players surrounded by kids struggling with mental illness everyday.

3. Media outreach: Don’t neglect the media. News announcements can make or break pivotal moments in an organization’s work. The taboo around mental illness needs to be broken, so we must start talking about it. It’s time to identify these issues on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.

Let’s start this school year off right by communicating LOUD and breaking the silence.