Every May since 1949, people all across the United States band together to shine a spotlight on mental health. We call it Mental Health Month, and we aim to increase mental health awareness and provide information about resources, educational tools, and support.
Given that one in four Americans lives with a diagnosable – and treatable – mental health condition, it only makes sense.
Some of the folks best positioned for increasing mental health awareness and education are celebrities, which is one of the reasons Psych Central and I created Celebrity Psychings.
The main reason for this?
By their very nature, celebs are perfectly posed to spread a message. Sometimes they do it on purpose (like Glenn Close launching Bring Change 2 Mind), and sometimes they do it simply by publicly living life’s ups and downs (like Christina Aguilera taking her rough year and turning it into a coaching method).
Still, whatever they’re doing – promoting a new movie, touring with a new album, rendezvousing with a co-star, undergoing a little nip and tuck, or committing some paparazzi faux pas – celebrities are seen and heard while they’re doing it.
And, what’s it take to really spread the word about mental health?
You guessed it: Be seen and be heard.
If you’re part of mental health support group, work or volunteer at your local community mental health center, are organizing a mental health event such as the annual NAMIWalks in your area – or are simply thinking of getting involved in any such endeavor – you have to make yourself and your cause seen and heard.
You have to advocate like a celebrity.
So, how can YOU advocate like a celebrity? How can YOU make sure your message is both SEEN and HEARD?
1. Create a website.
Quick! Name a contemporary celebrity that doesn’t have a website.
Can’t do it, can you? Neither can I.
Websites provide a solid, reliable online home base for your cause. You might opt for a static website, a dynamic blog, or both. Whatever you choose, make sure it provides information about mental health and wellness (think: educational tools, resources, and support). If applicable, be sure to include area-specific information about local centers, programs, and support groups.
Also, don’t overlook the importance of newsletters and RSS feeds. Whether there’ve been updates to the blog or there’s an event your visitors might be interested in, these tools help you stay in touch.
2. Cultivate a dynamic online presence.
Oprah. Ashton Kutcher. Britney Spears. Shaq. Celebrities are some of the most popular Twitter and Facebook users. These social media sites are often extensions of their websites, but many celebrities use them to personally interact with followers and fans.
Lady Gaga has even changed her Facebook settings so that fans can tag her in photos – and encourages them to do so!
Think about creating a Twitter or Facebook account to further interact with fellow mental health advocates, professionals, and consumers. You can use these platforms to make announcements, start discussions, spread news about research, and even pick up a few fans and followers who simply want to learn more about mental health.
3. Engage in some face-to-face interaction.
Snoop did it. Charlie Sheen did it. Even Diddy did it.
And, Joey Pantoliano did it right before he began the Iraq leg of his Stomp Out Stigma tour back in 2009.
I logged on for Joey’s USTREAM appearance and was thrilled about the face-to-face interaction the platform allowed him to have with fellow mental health advocates and professionals, as well as consumers and their family members and loved ones.
In addition to interacting with likeminded individuals and spreading awarenessyou’re your website and social media accounts, consider creating a USTREAM account for your organization and scheduling regular face-to-face question-and-answer sessions.
4. Foster an offline presence.
Don’t forget: There’s a whole world outside the Internet.
Even celebs have to back away from the computer and make a movie, sing a song, or break the law from time to time.
You can foster your mission’s offline presence by setting up booths at health fairs or speaking at schools and universities. During my NAMI days, we were regular fixtures at area health fairs. My friend Michele Rosenthal of HealMyPTSD.com recently acted as the keynote speaker for a Pasco-Hernando Community College symposium.
If you need ideas, keep your eyes and ears open for upcoming fairs, forums and symposiums, workshops, and other events in need of presenters and participants. Consider attending a few, first, to get an idea of how you’ll present your own information.
5. Create hype.
We tend to think of “hype” as a negative thing, but by definition, hype is meant to create interest and excitement – even if the methods are oftentimes dramatic.
Maybe “buzz” would’ve been the better term.
You can create hype – or buzz – for and in a variety of ways. Just started your own mental health support group? Land yourself an interview on your local news station or in your area news paper. (The former almost tripled attendance at my own NAMI meetings!) Have a special guest speaker coming to a meeting, or hosting a community event meant to be fun and informative? Design and distribute creative fliers, broadcast it on the radio, and make use of those Facebook and Twitter accounts!
6. Tell your story.
When was the last time you heard about a new celebrity autobiography?
If you read Celebrity Psychings, it was just last Friday.
Sharing our own personal stories is a powerful tool. In terms of mental health advocacy, it’s one of the most effective tools out there. Perhaps this is because the storyteller is opening himself up to others, and showing them they aren’t alone.
Of course, you don’t have to write an all-out memoir to tell your story (well, unless you want to); there are other ways. You can write personal essays, query magazines, or even submit to anthologies like the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
You don’t even have to share it in print. Know someone struggling with mental illness? Have a friend who’s afraid to make a therapy appointment? Is your cousin struggling with depression after a divorce, job loss, or family death?
Tell your story.
7. Throw a party!
Mental health, mental illness, mental wellness – we’re talking about important issues here.
Still, that doesn’t mean there’s not a little room for fun.
During my NAMI days, we would hold community picnics, holiday parties, and other kinds of fun gatherings where current and potential group members could mingle, get to know each other better, and – of course – take home literature and other materials about mental health and the group.
What are some of the ways you’ve worked as a mental health advocate? Have any of these ideas worked for you? Do you have other ideas to share?
This Celebrity Psychings post is part of the American Psychological Association’s Annual Mental Health Month Blog Party.
Find similar posts, as well as mental health and wellness facts and resources and information about healthy lifestyles and behaviors, at the official APA blog, Your Mind Your Body.
Image Credit: Robert Young