Powerful Messages to Shatter Stigma

Friendship Circle’s UMatter is harnessing the power of social media, so often criticized for amplifying and exacerbating social ills, to create awareness and help shatter the stigma surrounding mental health challenges.

The engaging campaign reveals how small shifts in perspective can make waves and change everything. Visually crossing out a single word in a debilitating sentence reverses its meaning and sends a deep message, encouraging a change in approach among people facing mental health challenges and those interacting with them.

Consider one of these ads: “Asking for help is mighty weak.” We automatically read “weak” and then read the sentence a second time without it. We experience the exact shift the ad calls for as we interact with it. The same is true for another one directed at someone experiencing a challenge: “Reaching out is never powerful.”

Other messages are directed at the broader community with a simple reminder to be kind and caring: “Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody.”

A series of ads are being placed in local newspapers as part of the campaign to go along with the social media posts.

“Talking openly about mental health challenges is one way to banish the isolation and stigma that surrounds it; it is also a powerful way to educate people about its impact and helps encourage those dealing with challenges to seek help,” said Rabbi Yisroel Rosenblum, director of UMatter.

Nearly one in five adults has sought treatment for a mental health condition according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and more than 46 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds are dealing with mental health challenges.

Since COVID-19, the need for behavioral health services for youth in NJ has skyrocketed. The proportion of youth presenting with anxiety increased by approximately 74 percent, and those presenting with depression increased more than 84 percent.

Mental health awareness campaigns are among the tools that can help counter the stigma that keeps people from sharing their feelings.

“The number one barrier to people getting services for mental health issues is not accessibility or affordability. It’s the stigma associated with mental health disorders and addiction,” said Robert Davison, CEO of the Mental Health Association of New Jersey, a supporter of the campaign. Davison pointed out that stigma is “another way of saying ‘shame’” and it should not be associated with mental health issues. “Mental health and addiction are not a function of character, but rather of the brain and the nervous system,” and should be treated as such, he said.

This campaign is a major focus of UMatter overall mental health initiatives. While most advertising campaigns are a means to an end, this one is an end in itself. “We hope it will help achieve one of the goals of UMatter: to change people’s mindsets about mental health and to break the stigma surrounding it,” said Rosenblum.

UMatter is also supported by a generous grant from The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey.

“The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey has worked for decades to support the physical and mental health of young people in our region. The pandemic has sadly exposed and highlighted the critical importance of supporting positive mental health services. As such, we’re pleased to support UMatter, which helps young people care for each other’s mental well-being,” said Michael Schmidt, HFNJ CEO/Executive Director.

UMatter’s array of programs inspire teens to help one another. “It’s all about raising awareness about mental health and learning how to talk about it,” said Rosenblum. While there is always an adult facilitator, this program is about teens helping teens.

It’s exactly the point that the initiative is coming from the community and from the teens, rather than from the mental health community. “The UMatter campaign is innovative, aggressive, and absolutely critical at this moment,” said Davison of MHA. “What’s innovative is that this program allows the youth not only to participate but also to providing leadership. This is the way to go.”

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