5 Provocations on Mental Health

  1. Vulnerability Is The New Strength

We’re reclaiming perceived weakness as strength as mental health comes out of the closet to become the centerpiece of our personal brands. Frank discussions of mental states are taking hold across media touch points, people are finding power through owning their struggles, and stigma is the new taboo.

Think Kanye West calling bipolar disorder his superpower and Michael Phelps using his battle with depression to fuel his work with therapy app Talkspace. Or even founder and CCO of ban.do Jen Gotch designing necklaces that proudly brandish “anxiety” and “depression” in 14K gold lettering. Big brands are jumping on the bandwagon too: Instagram launched its #RealConvo campaign and Burger King announced “Real Meals” that capture moods other than “Happy” such as “Pissed,” “Sad” and even “Salty.”

We think this movement in mental health is an evolution of what we call ‘Shameless Transparency’. Oversharing no longer exists as brands and people live their lives out loud and dirty laundry is no longer a faux pas, but an expectation. Elevating stories that promote the proverbial underdog will help brands authentically relate to audiences who often feel vulnerable themselves.

2. The Fight Against Burnout Begins

We’re throwing down the gauntlet against the traditional 9 to 5 agenda and seeking true work-life balance as always-on lifestyles take their toll. Now, stress and depression are no longer part of the job description.

Books like “Mommy Burnout” and “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle” tackle the stigmas around taking care of our mental health at the supposed cost of “productivity,” while a recent study from Harvard declares physician burnout a public health crisis. Brands like WeWork and Quickbooks are helping relieve stress by supporting more flexible approaches to work.

This response to the burnout epidemic stems from what we call the ‘Work Revolution’, which questions the philosophies that drive employees to unprecedented levels of stress, destroy productivity and stifle creative thinking. Mental health and wellness should be your HR department’s number one priority as employees realize that alternatives are possible.

3. Mental Health Is Transforming Entertainment

Mental health exercises are evolving from niche practices in wellness to mainstream entertainment as the masses look for new signifiers of fun in the face of sensory overload.

Crystal Healing, Rage Rooms, Day Raves, and Mindful Drinking are the entertainment dujour for those in the know. Mindful lifestyle brands like GOOP are the go-to for advice on where to travel and what to do when you get there. Medmen doesn’t just pedal weed, but holistic wellness experiences that pair with Moon Juice adaptogenics for that perfect Friday night in.

We call this shift ‘Get Mild’ as fun evolves from reckless abandon toward mindful activities that foster awareness and wellness in a cultural landscape that encourages neither. Brands should seize the opportunity to create new behaviors, tools, and rituals through unexpected collaborations that make mental health fun. Imagine if Pfizer partnered with Nintendo on a video game to promote positive thinking.

4. Tech Becomes The Big Bad Wolf

People are reevaluating their relationship with technology as it becomes a blanket scapegoat for mental health issues ranging from anxiety, to social isolation, and an inability to concentrate. Now we’re looking to disconnect as fractured attention spans crave blue skies over blue screens.

French president Emmanual Macron institutes a country-wide phone ban for students, while Apple and Google integrate digital wellness features to help users with tech addiction. The New Yorker pontificates on digital detoxes and entertainment like Black Mirror asks us to reckon with the dark side of technology, while doctors prescribe time with nature as a treatment for anxiety and depression.

We call this desire to disconnect ‘Stealth Mode’, and it reflects our increasing anxiety around the potential pitfalls of technology as it relates to our mental wellbeing. Brands must get ahead of negative conversations through self-regulation. Embrace moments where your product is not allowed, and be realistic about your product’s pitfalls. Consumers will thank you.

5. A Mental Health Spectrum Emerges

Mental health doesn’t just bounce between sick and well, but lies somewhere on a spectrum. While discussion of depression and anxiety have become mainstream in many parts of the world, autism and schizophrenia among other developmental disorders are still fighting for recognition and destigmatization. Just as the binary definition of gender has shifted towards a spectrum, and colorism has brought a more nuanced understanding of race discrimination, we envisage a new plurality in the cultural lexicon of mental health.

Taraj P. Henson advocates for greater awareness around black mental health, while the fight to recognize male eating disorders and male suicide are the media’s latest call to arms, and Six Flags theme park institutes quiet areas and special ride passes for Autism Awareness Day.

As society reckons with mental health hierarchies, we believe ‘Invisible Citizens’ will drive the conversation forward by bringing their sidelined stories front and center. A richer range and degrees of severity of developmental disorders will gain greater public understanding, meaning brands will need to recognize and respect nuances and rethink what is “normal.” It’s the end of the road for generic diversity campaigns which have so far focused on striking visible difference and lumping different “minorities” together. With mental health, brands will need to make a more credible, specific connection and tell a new kind of story to disrupt this space.

Translating cultural blur into business opportunity.