It's time for a paradigm shift to connect the worlds of marketing and mental health

Mental health disabilities remain the leading cause of disability in the United States.

Are we there yet?

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Nathaan Demers
VP and Director of Clinical Programs
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Grit Digital Health (A division of Cactus)

Tell us about one thing that’s happened recently that leads you to believe there’s still a problem?

It’s time to move beyond "raising awareness" about mental health and toward inspiring action. Historically, the field of psychology has been hesitant to market its services, partly from stigma of mental health generally and partly from the historical stance of utilizing a medical model when it comes to treatment (i.e., waiting until an individual is experiencing mental anguish and has no other option than to seek treatment). It’s time for a paradigm shift that connects the worlds of marketing and mental health to help individuals develop positive mental health habits and connect with treatment long before a crisis occurs, a goal that can only be accomplished with collaborations between behavioral health experts and marketing. As a clinical psychologist working in a marketing agency, I am excited about being a part of this transition from awareness to action.

When it comes to our work in the media, marketing, and creative sectors, research has indicated higher prevalence of mental health issues. While studies are limited, research in Australia found that 56 percent of individuals in our line of work cited symptoms of depression, compared with 36 percent in the general population. The take-home here is this isn’t a topic that is just for "others"—mental health issues are everywhere, including right here in our agencies.  

Zooming back out, the average time lapse from the onset of an individual experiencing mental health symptoms/distress to getting treatment remains at 8 to 10 years. Mental health disabilities remain the leading cause of disability in the United States, accounting for an average of 13.2 percent of all years of life lost from disability and premature death. It is estimated that depression alone has a cost of more than $23 billion from lost productivity. Most tragically, suicide rates have been increasing year over year, with more than 40,000 individuals dying each year by suicide in the United States alone.

How about something that proves we’re making progress?

With the majority of mental health campaigns in the past decade focused on raising awareness, there are signs that the stigma  is on the decline for talking about and seeking support for mental health. For example, amongst college populations, students are much more apt to use counseling services. Additionally, "upstream" campaigns and platforms such as and YOUat College, created by multidisciplinary teams including psychologists and marketing/branding experts, have shown exceptional outcomes in engaging target audiences to not only raise awareness but also actually refer individuals to treatment. For example, has had more than 300,000 men use its mental health-screening tool and connect with personalized recommendations for seeking treatment.

The medical world realized that treating high cholesterol is a much better alternative than waiting until someone is having a heart attack and shocking them back to life. Let’s take a page from this book for mental health and engage individuals when they are experiencing high levels of stress or simply feeling down, rather than waiting for the development of an anxiety disorder or depressive episode.

What else needs to be done to get there?

We need more collaborations between behavioral health professionals and the marketing/branding world. As mentioned above, the mental health field has had little formal overlap with the world of marketing. As a clinician myself, I admittedly had no idea how marketing could help support my clinical work prior to my current role (and falling in love at the intersection of the two, I might add). While the world of psychology primarily focuses on changing behavior through interpersonal interactions (e,g., talk therapy), marketing/branding seeks to achieve similar goals of changing behavior through different mediums at scale. Combining these perspectives of high touch and scale has countless benefits, including making mundane ideas and messages more exciting; thus, increasing adoption of positive mental health habits. Each day, I continue to be fascinated by the intersection and overlap between the two fields. With that, the onus is on both parties to bridge the divide and find further creative means to support one another with the shared goal of supporting the mental health and well-being of our communities. Quite frankly, 40,000 lives lost is far too many.  

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