The fact is, millions of children and teens are presenting high rates of sadness, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. There’s much to blame: school shootings, climate change, relationships, social media and political polarization. It’s clear that kids in America need help.
As companies develop technologies and solutions to address the crisis, their message—and how they communicate it—has the opportunity to transform behavioral health and change lives.
But, breaking into the crowded news cycle with relevant stories, commentaries and solutions is a challenge. Start-ups may not have the brand visibility or credibility to receive a measurable boost in coverage on their own. Targeted campaigns typically provide better results. So, for companies that want to drive nationwide expansion, hire expert healthcare providers, and raise money to continue on a growth trajectory, keep reading.
During Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re sharing five communications strategies for companies focused on our country’s most vulnerable population. Brands can leverage these tactics to build awareness, showcase experts and thought leaders, and shape the narrative around mental health to better support the next generation.
1. Differentiate with keywords like children and teens in your headline
To have the greatest impact, the issue must be top of mind for investors, policymakers, health insurers, schools and parents. Seems obvious, right? However, while the term “mental health” showed up in 127,471 headlines across the U.S. in 2022, according to a search of verified media outlets on Muck Rack, coverage for “children mental health” or “teen mental health” falls sharply. Results drop to a stunning 2,137. Less than 2% of the mental health-related articles in the U.S. throughout 2022 focused on children and teen mental health.
2. Consider the relationship between trauma and hope
Journalism and PR can advance society’s collective understanding of mental illness and substance abuse disorders; however, headlines about mental health too often focus on rare, sensational cases that lead to violence or death. The American Psychiatric Association’s guidance focuses on telling stories that increase awareness and reduce stigma around these conditions. If you’re featuring a patient, portray the person’s life and personality beyond any health conditions they experience. For example, focus on factors such as the person’s growth, resilience and hopes. This balanced approach will demonstrate respect for children and teenagers diagnosed with PTSD, depression, anxiety and other disorders by presenting them with complexity and dignity.
3. Have original research and patient stories ready
Proof points are essential to building trust. Amid market consolidation across healthcare, slowed funding streams and reduced newsrooms, there’s no patience for lack of evidence. When you’re ready to tell your story, make sure you have data squared away, your methodology for assessing health outcomes is easy to understand, and you have someone (i.e., a patient or a provider) who can bring your story to life for key audiences. Throughout all of this, don’t forget to be “clean and conspicuous” in your communication – the FTC announced updated guidelines recently, which reject vague terminology common in healthcare (see our blog post on these guidelines here).
4. Apply a human approach
Your brand is multi-dimensional. It’s not just a graphic and name. It’s who you are, what you do and what you stand for. Research shows that the more a brand exhibits humanlike attributes, the more likely it is to provoke emotions of trust.
5. Meet your customers where they are
Tackling systemic mental health issues requires a strategic approach to communications, and an understanding of the channels that reach the children, teens, parents, guardians, educators, and physicians that need help. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in 2021 52% of white adults with mental illness received care while only 39% of black or African American adults did, and 36% of Hispanic adults. While this data isn’t specific to children, 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and 37% of students with a mental health condition at age 14 or older drop out of school. Communication strategies should take into account cultural and community specific strategies, like Black-owned independent radio stations, social media influencers, and diverse online news outlets, in addition to focusing on broad national storytelling, telling the brand story repeatedly and consistently to maximize impact.
What’s at stake
While the state of mental health in the U.S. has been a concern for decades, the COVID-19 pandemic propelled the crisis significantly. Today, nearly one-in-three adults in the U.S. report symptoms of anxiety or depression—no doubt resulting from increased financial, emotional and health constraints. And, for children and teenagers, rates are just as alarming.
Suicide was the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds in 2020 and the third-leading cause among 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
On a positive note, there’s an appetite for solutions, both public and private. In late 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a $27 million initiative to improve and expand pediatric mental health support. And, mental health tech companies secured $2.6 billion across 286 deals in 2022, according to CB Insights. Although it was a 53% drop from 2021, it’s still more funding than the sector received in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Mental and behavioral healthcare companies have an incredible opportunity to make care accessible and help children and teenagers live life to the fullest. It starts with sharing honest and relatable stories, especially as symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder have skyrocketed.
RH Strategic understands the unique needs of the mental and behavioral healthcare space. Our healthcare practice is designed to help companies that are solving the toughest challenges in healthcare make an impact, change lives and launch into a new phase of growth. Check out our work.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based PR agency with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.