Concerns about the stigma of mental illness and addiction have been around for a long time. In 2001, we published Pennsylvania Launches Statewide Campaign to Fight Stigma Against Mental Illness. In 2007, Eighty Percent of Human Resources Directors Believe Shame & Stigma Associated With Mental Health Treatment Deters Employees From Seeking Help Through Workplace Resources and in 2010, Looking Past the “Mentally Ill Offender” Label.
But now we have behavioral health benefit parity. And mental health and addictions are more publicly in the news, with a throng of celebrities coming forward with stories of their own challenges. Here are just a few – Cara Delevingne Opens Up About Depression, ‘I Had a Mental Breakdown’, Lady Gaga Reveals She Has PTSD: ‘I Suffer From A Mental Illness’, and ‘There Are Very Low Lows’ Catherine Zeta-Jones Opens Up About Battle With Bipolar Disorder.
So, is stigma still an issue in marketing behavioral health services? I think the answer to that is a definite “yes.” Stigma ranks as the fourth highest of 10 barriers to care identified in the book, Ending Discrimination Against People with Mental and Substance Use Disorders: The Evidence for Stigma Change. And, even though it’s been shown that public awareness of stigma is high, this hasn’t led to a decrease in this stigma (see “A disease like any other”? A decade of change in public reactions to schizophrenia, depression, and alcohol dependence).
If you are responsible for marketing mental health or addiction treatment services to consumers, stigma remains a hurdle. And, your marketing program needs to address the stigma issue in its design. My advice – marketing should help people who see mental health advertisements as a link to how they want to feel, and not as a stigma. How can your marketing team “humanize and normalize” your service image?
Testimonials from other consumers who have received services – The advent of social media and the web has created a place where stories can be easily shared. The key will be to balance HIPAA requirements for protecting consumer information, while also adhering to a professional code of ethics that forbids any sort of quid pro quo, from consumers.
Electronic survey asking for anonymous feedback – Another key approach is the use of anonymous consumer feedback. The positive responses could be used in marketing campaigns, giving future consumers a way to connect with other consumers “just like them”, who have used the same services.
Choose language that normalizes and educates – How? Always keep in mind that words can empower or disenfranchise. Select words and images that are sensitive and welcoming to the viewers, while encouraging them to seek assistance. Giving them clear directives of who to call and where to go can speed up the therapeutic process.
In the end, it is up to marketing professionals to address the issue of stigma as part of their marketing and communication strategy. For executives of provider organizations who are using external marketing firms, it is important to educate those teams on the issue and these approaches to destigmatizing marketing communication. Getting the strategy and the messaging right on the front end will give behavioral health organizations the best return for their dollars spent on marketing communication.
For more on putting together your marketing campaign, check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:
- Custom-Fit Marketing
- Marketing Is Dead! Long Live Marketing!
- Marketing Is Changing, Even In The Health & Human Service Space
- Why Branding As Strategy Matters More
- How Effective Is Your Online Marketing Strategy?
- Keys To Marketing To Millennial Consumers
- Marketing Is Strategy In Action
- Best Practice Online Marketing On A Budget!
For more on how to balance the needs of your organization with the needs of your consumers, join OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Ken Carr September 27 at The 2017 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat for his session, “Creating An Ethical Environment: Best Practices In Building A Culture Of Ethics.”