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This last year has not only had a major impact on the mental health of both employees and their employers, but on awareness around the importance of mental health — and that’s been an enormous sea change. Before the trauma of COVID rolled into town, much of the conversation around mental health was focused on the individual, and much of that conversation stigmatized those who struggled. But a global pandemic essentially brought us all together.
“The pandemic gave us all one big externally shared, incredibly difficult experience that became a focus point for a lot of conversations around mental health,” says Will Allen-Mersh, partner at Spill, a company that provides mental health support for employees. “The degree and swiftness with which it has normalized mental health discussion is unprecedented.”
Through the subject of the pandemic, it became easier for people to talk about mental health more directly. They could talk about what it felt like to be isolated, what it felt like to not do things they love, or not see their family or friends.
“That, for me, is the thing that helps break stigma down, when we don’t always have to talk in labels, but just talk about the raw feelings underneath,” Allen-Mersh says. “Rather than saying, ‘I’m anxious,’ it became easier to say, ‘I’m feeling anxious because of what’s going on.’ It helped make conversations about mental health feel less loaded.”
Mental health in the office
Most importantly for mental health at work, the pandemic made it impossible for employers to ignore the need for work-life balance. They now had a direct view into their employees’ homes, and the reality of their lives.
“That facade came down — it had to come down,” Allen-Mersh says. “It forced the need to see employees as whole people. It’s easy to sweep it under the carpet at work, this idea that people are whole people and have worries and have dependents and have so much else going on. It literally just made that invisible thing suddenly very visual and very tangible.”
Employees are expecting more from employers, and different — better — forms of support than beers on Friday, free dinners, ping-pong tables, and so on. They’ve come to see most office perks for what they actually can be, which can be thinly veiled cultural tools aimed at getting people to work longer hours.
“It’s moved from quite specific benefits to people just wanting to work in a way that fits with their greater life,” he says. “That means so much more to them than specific incentives or non-monetary rewards. And mental health support has also gone from being a nice-to-have to one of the top three most pressing problems.”
Mental health and wellness as a brand
In the world we’re living in now, brands both have more power than ever, and they’re also more scrutinized, and consumers are demanding more transparency from them. Attempting to build a brand that prioritizes mental health and wellness has a number of rewards. But while the rewards for doing it right are great, the risks of getting it wrong are equally as great, because there’s a bigger stage from which people can see you fall, Allen-Mersh points out, and there’s a broader array of ways you can get it wrong.
Five or 10 years ago, consumers might expect a coffee company to be ethical in how it dealt with the coffee supply chain. Now consumers expect brands to be progressive in a more holistic way, and in terms of all the issues that are important to them, whether that’s anti-racism or taking a strong stand against the gender pay gap or showing that you care about the mental health of your employees.
“Brands today also have a responsibility to not just talk about the issues that are important to their audience, but also to act tangibly upon that,” he adds, “and consumers are good at calling out brands that talk the talk and don’t walk the walk. They’re quick to catch out any brand that’s trying to get benefits from that brand perception without actually putting their money where their mouth is.”
On the surface, while it seems a brand like Dove could easily integrate a discussion around mental health into their messaging, a company like Ford Trucks may seem like a big disconnect. But Allen-Mersh says any brand can find a compelling, authentic connection to the issue, and weigh in. It’s about going audience in, he says, rather than product out.
“When you’re looking at it cold, you’re like, what do trucks have to do with mental health?” he says. “The interesting thing here is, from an audience point of view, this is actually a great opportunity. Their audience might not be the audience who are most naturally open to engaging with mental health, but they might be the ones who could benefit most from it.”
He notes that middle-aged men are disproportionately impacted by depression and suicide, but they’re far less likely to talk about it with their friends, far less likely to try therapy, far less likely to seek a doctor’s help, and with an audience that is especially connected to an issue, you have a great reason to get involved with this issue.
Overall, Allen-Mersh recommends that you choose a couple of the most resonant social issues for your audience and try to overdeliver against those.
To learn more about the opportunities that a focus on mental health and wellness affords a brand, don’t miss this VB Live event.
Register here for free!
You’ll walk away with:
- Exclusive survey data on how mental health influences consumers’ purchase decisions in 2021
- A deep dive into how focusing on mental health improves brand perception, loyalty, and trust
- Tips on successfully integrating mental health into your brand strategy to improve brand image
- A look at the latest mental health brand campaigns that are making their mark on consumers
- Angeley Mullins, Latana, CMO and CGO
- Will Allen-Mersh, Partner, Spill
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