Should you include mental health messaging in your marketing?

Mental health awareness is skyrocketing.

The world wasn’t exactly easy on humans before COVID-19. Economic, political and race issues had been elevating stressors, causing increased mental and emotional strain for many. The Henry J. Kaiser Foundation reported that from January to June of 2019, “10% of US adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder.” 

Then, wham. COVID-19 hit and drastically changed things for almost everyone: how we interact and socialize with each other, how we parent, how we work, how we shop and how we…everything. It left many feeling more alone, uncertain, afraid and burnt out, which added new fears, stress and anxiety into daily living. It’s no surprise that all this change pushed mental health needs to new heights for young and old.

A June 2020 CDC survey showed 40% of adult Americans reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse, and that 63% of 18 to 24-year-olds reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. Meanwhile, more and more groups are reporting higher trauma and stress-related disorders, like youth, young adults, black and Latinx communities, caregivers and essential workers.

We advised marketers early during COVID-19, telling them it was wise to show compassion and understanding of “these troubling times," which helped build trust. But that was almost two years ago, and we don’t appear to be ending this pandemic any time soon. 

We have definitely seen since 2020, more and more marketers and communicators have helped their audiences - as well as their organizations - by addressing mental health needs in their campaigns. Should you?

We believe that if you can help empower and improve lives by sharing mental health resources, you should because communicating that you understand and want to help your audience is always worth it. Your efforts can include mental health messaging that accompanies your primary marketing message. Or depending on audience needs, your marketing push can be  focused on mental health. It can work in public health, higher education, and even when selling soap. Yes, soap. 

Here’s how to help your audiences with campaigns that use positive mental health messaging.

Where to start.

Addressing mental and emotional health in your campaigns is a noble cause, but one not to be taken lightly. Messaging should be driven by audience need. And it should be accurate, respectful, relatable and authentic.  So, your first steps are to determine true audience need and develop appropriate messaging. 

Start with qualitative and/or quantitative research to better understand your audience’s needs and what gaps are in their lives depending on their age, geography, economic realities and race. From there, you’ll know how your organization can best meet the mental health needs of your audiences. Without research, you may be guessing. 

Your messaging should reflect audience attitudes that are authentic and respectful. Message testing with your audiences and obtaining solutions and resources from reputable mental health professionals and organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Alliance on Mental Health and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Resilient Wisconsin program can ensure your messages are accurate. 

What to say and how to say it.

Since there are varying levels of severity with mental health issues, determine if your messaging best suits your audience’s need for general awareness, specific resilience and coping suggestions or messaging referring to third-party professional services. 

Consider influencers.

We have found that with declining news trust and mis-and-disinformation in social media, peer-to-peer communications in your campaigns, like testimonials or first-person stories from those in your audience can help ensure trust and credibility, particularly in social channels. Utilizing real people and directing their testimonial messaging is meaningful to audiences by being authentic and genuine. Through utilizing authentic language and understanding what matters, your audiences can get a feeling of a conversation that truly connects. 

Influencers can be particularly effective when communicating to young adults, a group greatly impacted by COVID-19; they seek out organizations delivering authentic messages for the greater good and can see right through the inauthentic aspects of social media.

Using influencers can help effectively build trust and spread mental health messaging in social media channels. See more about influencers in our recent article here. Even campaigns from celebrities and notable people in your community will help normalize conversations around mental health, bring the topic front and center and help destigmatize asking for help.

Use the right tone. 

Capturing the right tone is important. Avoid being flip, using “doom and gloom” and lead with positivity, hope, compassion and a sense of helping. All messages must come with understanding, compassion, and authenticity. 


Don’t forget to measure your efforts. You can track video views, shares on social media, and posts from influencers and associated engagement. If pushing to local resources, you can request activity driven by your campaigns. But the most meaningful feedback can come from qualitative one-on-one listening sessions directly with your audiences about your work.

What about soap?

In obvious categories like public health and higher education, mental health messaging is highly relevant to a core mission or objective. We’ve done so in messaging around HIV testing, tobacco cessation, opioid awareness, toxic stress for first responders and COVID-19. 

But what if your company sells…soap? Should your marketing contain mental health messaging? Check out Dove. Yes, they’ve been promoting inner beauty and positive messaging to women in their soap and personal care ads since they launched their Self-Esteem Project in 2004. But this new execution of the campaign from 2020 called “Reverse Selfie” takes mental health messaging to a whole new level. 

The hard-hitting ad is powerful (and may be difficult for some to watch). In it, Dove tells women to talk to the girls in their lives about how social media can damage a positive self-image.  

Since the Self-Esteem Project began, Dove has supported 70 million young people, with a goal to educate 250 million by 2030. If Proctor and Gamble can do that with soap and skincare products, your product or service communications can likely integrate wellness messaging, too. 

Certainly, mental health awareness has been growing in communications. But let’s push it higher, get people to talk more, normalize mental health, remove barriers, reduce stigma, and provide resources and solutions. We can all use this critical turning point to continue to get mental health conversations out of the dark and into the light.

When you do, your organization can continue to make a meaningful impact, grow trust, and empower and improve people’s lives. 

Want to dig deeper? Contact KW2 CEO Jennifer Savino for a closer look at how we help clients successfully address mental health in communications.