InvisALERT Solutions – ObservSMART

Mental Health: Everyone Has It. Every Day. Breaking the Stigma with ICAN’s Innovative Campaign

Integrated Community Alternatives Network (ICAN) is an innovative human service non-profit providing individualized traditional and non-traditional service and care to the highest-risk individuals and families with social, emotional, mental health, and behavioral challenges. ICAN’s team of over 275 staff consists of care managers, service coordinators, social workers, support specialists, clinical staff, and an extensive Independent Practice Association (IPA) of 300+ providers who work together to provide a platform for support, family reunification, and preservation to over 2,400 individuals and families each day. We serve six counties in the Mohawk Valley region through over 20 programs that assist and empower individuals prenatally through end-of-life.

Integrated Community Alternatives Network (ICAN)

Naz presenting to a group of students at Frankfort-Schuyler Central School District

We have an amazing culture and love the work we do.

Mental health is threaded through each of our programs and is top-of-mind for every member of our ICAN team. We do our best work for the community by empowering our staff to take great care of themselves and their families so they can do this vital work each day.

We were overjoyed to receive funding for the New York State Office of Mental Health Stigma Reduction Project, which helped us advance our goal of reducing the stigma of asking for help. Once awarded, our creative team created an innovative campaign to engage Mental Health Ambassadors to deliver an impactful message to area youth. Unique and inclusive outreach and a “let’s make it amazing!” approach to creative work are where our team shines.

We chose teenagers and pre-teens as our audience. On top of the stresses of simply navigating the world at that age, our young people are still finding their way through a major collective trauma and dealing with constant connectedness and incessant barrage of social media.

To make the campaign as successful as possible and ensure that we developed a message that would resonate with youth, we formulated an online survey to gather imperative insight from teens. We asked them a series of questions about mental health: what it means to them if they have negative or positive connotations when they hear the term, how often they think about it, and who they talk to for guidance or help. With close to 150 responses, we had the start of a road map for our campaign. Just over 40% of respondents think about their mental health every day, and 22% think about it many times a week.

As we started to craft the campaign slogan, there was a lot of creative thinking, along with consulting our team of ICAN mental health professionals and researching nationwide mental health campaigns and messaging. There were also a lot of simple, straightforward conversations among our team, their friends, and colleagues on parenting, mentoring, and working with our clients. What do we say to our kids? How do we guide those we serve? What were some first-hand lessons learned? We wanted to develop a strong slogan that could be worked into everyday conversation, that would be memorable, and that would truly do the work of reducing stigma by positioning mental health as something as important as physical health. Our Director of Clinical Services is famous for saying, “Everyone has mental health!” and our survey showed us that for many teens, it’s on their minds every day. The campaign slogan emerged triumphantly:

“Mental Health: Everyone Has It. Every Day.”

We proposed the slogan to the key stakeholders on the project, got the green light, and it was time to bring it to life.

Mental Health Ambassadors were key to the campaign’s success and building the message through many avenues. We identified individuals in our community who WE knew focused on mental health but who youth might be surprised to hear from speaking about it publicly. Those we approached to participate in have diverse interests, skills, and strong platforms to share their stories. The three who worked with us are:

  1. Liz Ellis, Morning Show Host on KISS FM and Promotions Director at Roser Communications
  2. Al Marro, Youth Care Coordinator at ICAN and Professional Mixed Martial Arts Fighter
  3. Naz Deloach, Artist, Producer, and Owner of Dreamer Studio. (Through participating in this campaign, Naz started working with ICAN as a Facilitation Specialist in fall 2023!)

The Ambassadors didn’t know each other coming into the campaign, so we had to provide a space for them to meet each other, tell their stories to each other and our creative team, and build rapport before diving into promoting the campaign. They each had a relatable “hook” to their mental health journey that became the foundation for their stories. We focused on the pivotal moments they had in realizing that they needed to own their mental health – monitor it, manage it, and move through it, sometimes literally day by day.

We also used that time together to run the campaign slogan by them and to get feedback and buy-in. After all, they had to deliver it and live it!

We began with a photo shoot to have professional imagery to use throughout the marketing pieces we needed. Then we set up a Content Day at Liz’s studio to conduct pre-recorded interviews and radio spots to air on multiple stations. Our marketing team created all campaign materials in-house – graphic design, scriptwriting, photography, video shooting and editing, email marketing, and social media management. We had a series of posters put up in elevators and public spaces. Small autograph cards accompanied the Ambassadors to visits and they signed them for students. On the back was their message and the number to the Suicide Prevention Hotline. We ordered stickers, buttons with the slogan, and t-shirts.

One of our favorite pieces created was a fillable handout for students prompting them to reflect or answer based on the Ambassador’s “catchphrases” from their stories: “Find it. Do it. Every day.” and “Find your people.” and “Be sure to reach back to help others.” It provided actionable items that young people could do right away.

We worked closely with ICAN’s Community Education and Training program to invite Ambassadors into already-scheduled school training. Al and Naz worked with 225 middle and high school students in one visit, and all three Ambassadors hosted a group at KISS FM, where Liz could give them a tour and talk about her work on the popular local radio station. All three Ambassadors continue to be very involved in our ongoing programming in organic ways, from work as employees to presentations to collaborating non-profit partners.

We heavily leaned on our social media platforms, and our posts were amplified by our Ambassadors, reaching tens of thousands during the campaign. Messaging went out through our email marketing to thousands of individuals, videos were posted on YouTube, and we crafted individual Ambassadors spotlights on our website. Their stories were perfect to use, expand, and use snippets as needed across many platforms in different formats.

We gathered quantitative results for the campaign through expected, traditional ways: social media reach, email opens, views on videos, number of handouts, stickers, and buttons given out, and number of students reached through programming. We also stayed in touch with the Ambassadors and garnered qualitative feedback from them – students and teachers reaching out to them, Liz’s listeners commenting to her on mental health, a spike in Naz’s music streams, and perhaps most importantly, their continuance of working their messages into their everyday work. We hope that teens will always remember our Ambassadors’ school visits and that the slogan meant something to them.

We continue to hear ICAN staff use the slogan in passing at work and embedding it into work with their clients. What started out to be a campaign with the intent of having an “every day voice” has indeed begun to permeate every day conversations. Staff who table at various community events and job fairs take materials with them and continue to spread the message.

A campaign like this will shine with additional time, applications, exposure, frequency, platform expansion, new Ambassadors, and more! There’s lots of creative exploration to dive into and a lot of momentum from this first run. The impact can be monumental for our youth as we continue to foster the message that mental health is important and something we live with and manage. Every. Day.

Campaigns take time. Movements and mindset change take even more time. For anyone working in this space alongside us, be patient with yourselves, your creativity, and your audience. They need to hear the message many times and then make an internal behavioral decision to adopt it into their lives. There has been a lot of stigma built up surrounding mental health over decades. It will take us all working together to lift each other over these barriers.

This project was funded by the New York State Office of Mental Health and the New York State Tax Check-off Funds for Mental Health Stigma Reduction.

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