Ad Campaign Aims to Discourage Mental Health Stigmas
> 4/2/2008 7:07:35 AM

The general public's awareness of mental illness continues to grow in keeping with the ever-expanding knowledge base of a society that stands at the forefront of groundbreaking research and treatment. But confusion and ridicule too often remain de facto responses to very serious disorders when those whose lives they touch need patience and understanding above all else. Mistaken beliefs and biases may very well impair an affected individual's ability to acquire housing, employment and, most importantly, the company and support of peers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), with the help of the CDC, the NIMH, the Ad Council, and some very generous amateur actors, has created a multimedia ad campaign designed to encourage young adults to transcend uninformed societal biases and offer emotional support and understanding to any friends suffering from mental illness.

Emphasizing the importance of peer interaction, and looking to repeat the success of similar public health campaigns like the suicide prevention hotline, the campaign aims to better educate American college students to a class of conditions whose influence touches their campuses every day. In helping them move past myths and stigmas, the discussions prompted by this campaign may allow them to understand that mental health conditions, like physical diseases, may strike nearly anyone and that their occurrence cannot be a variable on which we judge others. In no way does any psychiatric disorder represent a personal failure or character flaw, and public perception must be adjusted to reflect the fact that psychoses, unstable moods and behavioral disorders are afflictions every bit as valid as cancer and heart disease. These seemingly disparate disease classes are more alike than they initally appear: all carry the potential to be chronic, debilitating and, in the most extreme cases, fatal.

The SAMSHA campaign officially began in Fall 2007 with the distribution of thousands of information packets to libraries and book stores at campuses around the country. Ads run under the heading "What a Difference a Friend Makes," their target audience consisting of young Americans who have watched close friends suffer through bouts of depression or other disorders and for whom social networks are absolutely indispensable. SAMSHA has their work cut out for them: 18-25-year-olds bear far higher rates of mental illness than any other demographic. Nearly 1 in 5 have received some sort of relevant diagnosis, and a statistic twice as high as that among the general population. The prevalence of mood disorders among college students is particularly widespread. More than half of the students participating in a nationwide 2006 survey reported prolonged periods of emotional desperation in which they chose words like "hopeless" to describe their own mindsets and circumstances. Yet individuals in this age group are those least likely to seek professional treatment. And yes, a fear of humiliation and social abandonment deserves at least some of the blame for creating that reluctance.

Personal bias remains strongest against those suffering from rarer and more profoundly misunderstood conditions like autism or schizophrenia. Larger behavioral trends can only be countered with education, but enlightening uninterested parties to the reality of such somber conditions always proves difficult. Pop culture has fostered some unfortunate points of reference even when the works in question were well-intentioned. Many autism-based discussions, for example, will inevitably revert to mentions of Dustin Hoffman's award-winning performance in the 1989 film Rain Man, but even his empathetic rendering of an autistic savant has spurred more than its share of one-sided jokes and unflattering imitations.

As more and more Americans seek treatment for clinical depression, they will inevitably grow more sympathetic toward the victims of these most confounding conditions through understanding how common their influence actually is, but progress never moves as quickly, and the general public must sometimes be nudged toward tolerance on this issue. With sufficient funding, SAMSHA may even be able to buy air time. As commercial advertisers know all too well: the more aggressively confrontational the spot, the better. Dropping a mental health awareness ad in the middle of American Idol would lead at least a few of the 30-million-strong audience to consider the matter more carefully. They might even feel greater empathy for those who give themselves so readily to public humiliation.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy