As a cause, mental health has come a long way. I write this from my office at CAMH Foundation, which happens to be located in the Bell Gateway Building on our Queen Street West campus. In 2012, CAMH recognized Bell’s support by naming the Bell Gateway Building in its honour—marking a significant first for any major corporation in the mental health space. Let’s take a moment to pause on that: Mental health was so marginalized that no corporation would dare to publically tout their support. It was a significant moment for mental health. Thanks to early partners like Bell, the movement was able to break through the stigma to take its rightful place as a very important, and now very public, cause.
As marketers, we know the value of aligning with a cause that complements brand identity, corporate values or philanthropic objectives. There’s no bad reason to want to support a not-for-profit that’s doing great work. Cause marketing is an exceptional way to contribute to society—it’s also a smart business decision. The degree to which organizations "do good" matters to employees and consumers, too.
What’s unique about taking up the cause of mental health is that it is almost unanimously deeply personal. Odds are, many people in your organization are living with a challenge, right now. By the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have—or have had—a mental illness. If they haven’t been personally touched by mental illness, they have through their friends or family. Half a million Canadians miss work each week because of mental illness. A recent study revealed that three-quarters of working Canadians say they would either be reluctant to admit or would not admit to a boss or co-worker if they were living with a mental illness. We’ve come a long way, but stigma persists around mental illness.
How do we build partnerships in the mental health space that are authentic and meaningful? In a word: carefully. Marketing, of course, should resonate on a personal level to incite action. In cause marketing, that might not be enough. We’re well in the era of The Conscious Consumer. Audiences want to understand the values of a brand and what impact their business has on the world. When a strategy isn’t careful in the cause marketing space, it can feel tokenistic or be met with ire.
When it is done well, the impact can extend far beyond marketing objectives.
In building an authentic partnership in the mental health space, start with an honest assessment of your own organization. Is mental wellness a shared value?
When you ask someone how they are doing, can they be honest? Does your culture feel diverse, inclusive and safe? Do you have well-honed best practices for fostering a mentally healthy workplace? This is the place from which to begin. And, be comfortable knowing building meaningful partnerships, especially aligned to mental health, can be a process. Perfection at the outset is not realistic and should not be expected, however, good intentions are essential. Simple steps can be made each and every day, however, to live up to our intentions and to measure progress against these.
Before building a cause-marketing strategy around mental health, turn over every possible stone in your organization to ensure that mental health is being prioritized. Every intern to every executive should know that their mental health is valued just as much as their physical wellness. Be ready to acknowledge the iterative process that everyone must commit to, led by natural and formal leaders, and celebrate along the journey.
Opening up an authentic conversation about mental health in the workplace – in fact, anywhere - can prompt some uncomfortable discussions. Societally, we’re still creating the discourse where we can talk about mental illness openly at work. We all have a shared responsibility to normalize this in our workplaces, and as marketers, a further obligation to talk the talk (literally) before walking the walk. Marketers understand culture and effectively getting messages across to people like no one else, so we are uniquely poised to lead this movement toward authentic partnerships. Not only are we well poised to take action, we have a responsibility to do so. Now.
Vice President, Marketing and Donor Experience