What brands need to know: the mental wellness journey
As COVID-19 has spread across the country, the pandemic has had consequences beyond its physical symptoms: It’s also taking a huge toll on the mental and emotional well-being of millions of Americans.
According to a recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about four in 10 adults in the U.S. reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder due to worry over the coronavirus in January 2021, compared with one in 10 from January to June 2019.
To explain more about the effects of COVID-19 on consumers’ well-being—and how brands can connect with people as an important participant in this conversation—Laurie Dewan, VP of consumer insights for Healthline Media, and Erin Petersen, editor-in-chief for Healthline.com, shared their insights at the recent Ad Age Next: Health & Wellness virtual event.
To begin, they said, it’s important for brands to understand the audience they’re talking to as well as how comfortable they are with discussing mental well-being in general.
For brands, Petersen said, “It starts with understanding who you're trying to reach, and your tactics are going to vary a little bit, but really zero in on that audience and tailor the message. The long-term approach is also really important.”
‘Living into their diagnoses’
One key factor for marketers, they said, is understanding that older generations, such as baby boomers, may often perceive a stigma surrounding mental health issues, while younger demographics are much more open about talking about their mental health challenges and diagnoses.
“Even though now there are more people than ever talking about mental health—I mean, we're talking about it more than we did even at this time last year—it's still a really personal topic, and there's some barriers to entry to really starting that conversation,” Petersen said. “Maybe I don't resonate with the term ‘generalized anxiety disorder,’ but talking about being worried or talking about feelings of anger or feelings of frustration can be really great catalysts for great conversation.”
Dewan agreed. “In our research, what we were seeing up to a year, maybe even more before this, was that people—especially younger folks, millennials, Gen Z—were much more open and accepting about the challenges that they're having in mental health as just a part of the tapestry of their life. They are willing to live into their diagnoses.”
“When you're thinking about how to message around mental health, understand that most people are experiencing mental health challenges,” she said. “If you're trying to reach younger audiences, you really need to hear them and the language that they use to speak about their mental health because it is different.”
In addition to understanding who they’re talking to, brands need to figure out what is affecting the audience’s mental health in order to address the right topic.
“In our most recent research, when we asked people how they’re feeling, we still see very high levels of people feeling really anxious and depressed,” Dewan said. “But what I found surprising was that COVID-19 was not the direct reason that people talked about. They talked about loneliness as the No. 1 thing that was causing them to feel anxious or hopeless.”
Genuinely connecting with consumers
As the pandemic enters its second year, more people are also starting to take action to restore and maintain their mental well-being—which is another critical area for brands seeking to genuinely connect with consumers. For example, how can your brand authentically integrate itself into new daily habits that help people relax, or what kind of information on well-being and wellness can you offer while maintaining the brand’s voice?
“Simply being empathetic or just presenting great imagery is not enough,” Dewan said. “You need to find ways to have a direct impact on the communities that you are hoping to work with. Whatever service or product you offer, find an authentic way that you can connect with that community and provide real directed service. In the case of Healthline, that’s about working with providers and working with organizations that can help us speak with a true and authentic voice.”
For example, Petersen said, “we have a lot of parents who come to Healthline who are in a very specific boat right now. And people living with chronic conditions, people who might be navigating their recovery. So we try to really think about how to break down those barriers to access: What is the language that resonates with them? How do we meet them where they are, and how do we think about tailored solutions and approaches?
“This is not something where the same thing is going to work for every single person,” she added. “So we really have to get realistic with how people can practically apply these tactics in their day-to-day lives.”
Overall, Dewan said, “People are doing more—they’re seeking information about daily habits that they can engage in. And they're also more open to engaging in more formal forms of therapy than ever before. So I do think that this has been a year of profound challenge and people are stepping into new behaviors in ways that they never did before.”
Petersen agrees: “This mental health conversation—it's something that we’re talking about a lot now, but it’s going to be with us for a long time. Even as we get through this pandemic, the impacts are going to be there. And so having a long-term approach—something that’s really sustainable—is going to be super important for any brand.”
Curious to learn more from Healthline Media? For trends and insights, visit HealthlineMedia.com/Insights.