May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Like all things that are relegated to a week- or month-long recognition, it is important to keep mental health—and its doppelgänger, mental illness—top of mind all year.

That’s never been more apparent than this year, with many suffering from what some doctors call “the second pandemic;” the effects of COVID-19 on how we handle stress, the choices we make, and even our ability to function emotionally. It’s no wonder our society is seeing an uptick in symptoms of depression, anxiety, extreme fatigue, and more. I think we can all agree that humans can only handle living with uncertainty for so long, right?

As someone who is living with a diagnosed mental illness, let me reassure you that situational mental health issues are often temporary and don’t always correlate with lifelong psychological disorders. And, except in extreme cases, both mental health issues and mental disorders are treatable.

Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental health issues keeps many people from seeking help. As Well Done found out when we partnered with the City of Indianapolis last fall on a mental health campaign, African American men and Latinos are among the least likely to admit they are suffering. Some common beliefs about mental health in the African American community include: Feeling depressed is seen as weak. You shouldn’t share your business with a stranger. Real men just deal with it.

Coping with COVID

To combat these misperceptions, our Coping with COVID campaign paired photos of African Americans and other people of color wearing face masks—a symbol of the pandemic that is immediately recognizable—with a statement that someone might say to minimize how they are feeling. Below each “quote” is a second line normalizing the idea of asking for help in dealing with the mental health issued caused by COVID-19. The tagline, “Change the conversation about COVID-19 and mental health,” reinforces the need to move beyond the myths surrounding mental health assistance.

Because of budget restrictions, we didn’t create a landing page for the campaign. Instead, we worked with the City to provide links to a variety of free and low-cost mental health providers, resources, and community organizations that were experienced in providing services within the African American community.

The six-week campaign ran between December 2020 and mid-January 2021 since the holidays are traditionally a time when crisis hotline calls increase, and COVID-19 cases began to spike.

Generating an estimated 5.5 million impressions, the digital portion of our campaign included paid search and social media ads in English and Spanish on Google, Bing, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pandora, and Spotify as well as geo-targeted display ads in zip codes with a higher prevalence of African Americans and other people of color.

Spanish social media ad example

Because internet usage is lower among African Americans and Latinas(os) than white audiences, we also placed print ads in the Indianapolis Recorder, one of the top African American newspapers in the country, as well as radio ads on local English and Spanish radio stations.

Print ad example of woman in mask that reads "I'm okay discussing my problems"

We also partnered with IndyGo, the city bus line, and a local outdoor advertising company to make sure the message specifically reached people with lower incomes who are not as likely to seek out costly mental health services.

Bus advertisement example

The City also distributed a social media toolkit and printed rack card through its Mayor’s Action Center to neighborhood associations, library branches, and unemployment offices so these community advocates could amplify the message and encourage people to seek assistance.

Results

Was the campaign successful? It’s hard to tell since we weren’t able to track what happened after people visited the campaign page on the City’s website. We did drive 45,330 clicks to the website and encouraged action with a potential reach of a million people each week through traditional and outdoor ads.

The real measure of success for a public health campaign like this is if it influenced even one person to reconsider how they are taking care of their mental health. It is an issue we continue to be passionate about, both with our own team and in the community. If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health issues after 400+ days of the pandemic, now may be the time to change your own conversation. We know a good Indianapolis resource guide that can help you get started.