In time for World Mental Health Day this Saturday, Project Healthy Minds, a new millennial-focused nonprofit aimed at addressing the country’s mental health crisis, has debuted an unsettling cautionary tale with the help of a team of ad industry vets.
The spot, titled “Before I,” features old footage capturing touching moments and milestones of a young woman’s life—her first moments on video at just 12 days old, when she blows out candles on her birthday cake, rides a bike, performs at a piano recital, balances on a beam at gymnastics class.
Throughout, however, her voiceover draws viewers in, suggesting that there’s more to what seems an idyllic life:
“Before I grow up, before I make a wish, before my training wheels come off, before I kiss a boy, before I kiss a girl, before my first report card, before I grow up, I will experience my first mental health crisis.”
Copy then reads, “Half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 14. It’s time we talked about our mental health together.”
Project Healthy Minds worked with Droga5 Co-Chief Creative Officer Tim Gordon and Trevor Eld, former CCO at The Fader and ECD at R/GA to create the ad. Jonathan Vingiano, a freelance creative director for agencies including Wieden + Kennedy, Droga5, BBDO directed, while Dan Hoffmann, Project Healthy Minds head of marketing and Bully Pulpit Interactive senior director, led the campaign development.
According to Gordon, Project Healthy Minds founder Philip Schermer had reached out to him when he was thinking of starting the organization, having seen Gordon’s work for the New York Times, which includes the much-celebrated “Truth Is Worth It” campaign. “We talked over coffee about the dire need to combat mental health issues amongst America's youth,” he says. “I found out rather quickly that we both shared the belief that mental health is one of the pre-eminent issues of our time along with climate change.” Eld had met Schermer last year and was immediately drawn to the cause. “Not only is mental health extremely important to me, but when it comes to creative projects I always look for things that haven't been done before, and there really is no other non-profit like this one in the mental health space,” he says. “Also working in culture marketing for almost 20 years has made me more attuned to the growing crisis around the mental health of young people and minorities, especially during COVID.”
The brief was to launch the organization, and Gordon had written a few scripts at the outset, including one for “Before I.” Eld explains it came out “of a pretty tragic statistic on the World Health Organization's website stating that over half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 14 but most go undetected and untreated.”
After the team selected that script to kick off with, COVID threw a hitch into production. It so happened, however, that when they brought in director Vingiano to discuss shooting options, while quarantining with his family he had “somewhat serendipitously” stumbled on home videos of his sister Ali, who had her own experiences managing her mental health, Eld says.
Gordon says that Ali’s videos then became the backbone of the new script. With his sister’s permission, Vingiano then wrote the treatment centered around her, versus the original concept which had featured multiple children. “This was a new spin on the idea that had an authentic story behind it, so we ran with that,” Eld says. “When we digitized the tapes and saw the footage we were all moved by the familiar but tender moments in them that so many of us can relate to our own childhood.” Ali herself reads the spot’s voiceover.
The ad arrives as the pandemic has brought the growing mental health crisis into sharp relief. Since COVID-19 hit the states, the country has seen depression rates triple, while one in four young adults have considered suicide in the last month, according to Project Healthy Minds.