In recognition of the powerful role storytelling can play in addressing our nation’s mental health challenges, a coalition of leading media companies and experts is joining forces to change the narrative on mental health.
National suicide rates have increased substantially over the past two decades, with a recent spike amongst young people. Since the start of COVID-19, depression, anxiety, and mental health challenges have been on the rise, leading some experts to call mental health the “second pandemic”. This data reinforces that changing the conversation about mental wellness and suicide prevention has never been more important—and the entertainment sector has a key role to play.
Created in partnership with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California and a newly formed Expert Advisory Council featuring over a dozen leading mental health experts and organizations, the Mental Health Storytelling Coalition includes the leading forces in entertainment.
Industry leaders, creators, and celebrities will kick off this collaboration at the Mental Health Storytelling Summit the first week of May which will include inspiring conversations, case studies, workshops and more.
The coalition will also unveil a first-of-its-kind comprehensive Mental Health Media Guide which provides best practices and evidence-based recommendations to support storytellers at any phase in the production process, across topics and genres.
The Industry Advisory Council includes: Amazon Studios, Anonymous Content, AwesomenessTV, BET, CAA Foundation, CBS, CMT, Comedy Central, Endeavor Content, MTV, NBCUniversal, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, SHOWTIME®, Spotify, Sony Pictures Entertainment, STARZ, The Ad Council, The Walt Disney Company, UTA Foundation, ViacomCBS, and VH1.
The Expert Advisory Council includes: Active Minds, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Born This Way Foundation, Entertainment Industries Council, National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Council for Behavioral Health, SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), The Boris L. Henson Foundation, The Jed Foundation, The Trevor Project, Vibrant Emotional Health (administers of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline), Dr. Jessi Gold, Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, and Dr. Michael Lindsey.
“Media has enormous influence over how we collectively perceive and understand the most difficult issues in our society,” said Bob Bakish, President & CEO of ViacomCBS. “The mental health crisis impacts people of all demographics and geographies, and as content creators, it’s our responsibility to use our assets – through our stories, platforms and reach – to take action. Our ability to come together as an industry to meaningfully shift the narrative around mental health can transform the lives of people everywhere.”
“The mental health crisis is the silent pandemic that has been on an alarming rise for the last decade and we are so thankful to our partners for joining us in this coalition to unleash the power of storytelling to help shatter the stigma around mental health,” said Chris McCarthy, President of MTV Entertainment Group. “As storytellers, we have the opportunity to represent the continuum of mental health and empower people to help themselves and each other, because mental health is health.”
“It is a privilege and responsibility to help shine a light on the importance of mental health through stories and shows including ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ‘black-ish,’ ‘Love, Victor’ and ‘A Million Little Things’ that run on our broadcast networks and streaming platforms,” said Craig Erwich, President, ABC Entertainment and Hulu Originals. “Feeling seen and understood is a powerful step toward seeking solutions, and we will continue to lean into the power of our storytelling and platforms to show support, raise awareness and change the narrative around mental health.”
“We were lucky to have formed a long term partnership with American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Dr. Christine Moutier and other mental health experts throughout 4 seasons of 13 Reasons Why and can share first hand how rewarding and crucial these connections are. We are committed to making more content that both promotes empathy and awareness around mental health while also normalizing and humanizing the valid experiences of those who live with mental illness. Now more than ever, content must continue to shine a light on the varied ways mental health impacts our lives and the lives of those we love & help show audiences that they are not alone,” said Joy Gorman Wettels, Partner at Anonymous Content
“Television and film are powerful mediums that can inspire cultural change. CAA is proud to support the Mental Health Storytelling coalition, and the artist community, in its efforts to reshape mental health representation on screen,” said Joel Lubin, CAA Board Member & Co-Head of Motion Pictures
“As we continue to navigate these unprecedented and challenging times, it is important now more than ever to amplify the conversations surrounding mental health, and NBCUniversal is proud to partner alongside these incredible industry and expert voices for this groundbreaking initiative,” said Janine Jones-Clark, Executive Vice President of Inclusion – Talent & Content, Film, TV & Streaming, NBCUniversal. “The Mental Health Media Guide will be an invaluable industry tool as it’s our responsibility as content creators to ensure authentic portrayals of mental health given the impact our narratives and characters can have on audiences.”
“The depiction of mental health and suicide in popular entertainment serves as a valuable opportunity to change the landscape of people’s understanding around these critical topics. A wealth of research related to suicide prevention reveals that the way suicide is portrayed through storytelling can have positive or negative impacts on viewers, especially for those who may already be in a vulnerable state. By providing Safe Storytelling Guidelines and educating content creators, we can enhance their ability to creatively tell whatever stories they want to tell, and to do so safely. What’s more, by portraying everyday characters who proactively care for their mental health, and showing a world in which help is available (whether the characters themselves may realize it or not), entertainment can help create a culture that is smart about mental health,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“It is absolutely critical to give storytellers the tools they need to ensure that portrayals of mental health are inclusive, authentic, and safe, and that production teams work in an environment where mental health is valued,” said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. “With the Mental Health Media Guide, the coalition of experts, and the Mental Health Storytelling Summit, creative professionals will have access to information in a new capacity to positively influence the media landscape.”
“At Active Minds, our mission is centered on changing the conversation and culture around mental health. But this can’t happen in a vacuum. We need the support, collaboration, and creativity of other stakeholder and media organizations, which is why we are thrilled to participate in the Expert Advisory Committee,” said Margo Collins, chief marketing and development officer of Active Minds. “Creating real, tangible change in the ways we view mental health requires a new way of seeing, hearing about, and interacting with it. We’re excited to work with the Committee to bring new ideas around mental health into the conversation on a larger scale.”
“The past year has presented unprecedented challenges, weighing heavily on communities across the country,” said Heidi Arthur, Chief Campaign Development Officer at the Ad Council. “We are honored to be part of this critical and collaborative effort to share the best practices, messaging, tips and tools that will help millions of people struggling with mental health issues.”
“Our work at Born This Way Foundation is deeply rooted in the lived experiences of young people. We believe that fostering and modeling healthy discussions about mental health helps bridge the gap between the resources that exist and the young people who desperately need them,” said Maya Smith, Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation. “We’re so proud to be part of the group of changemakers shifting the conversation and helping our youth connect with the tools, resources, and support they need to thrive, not just survive.
“Entertainment Industries Council, (EIC) encourages artists in the entertainment industries to be the message and the messenger. When you can see it, you can be it; when you hear it, you can say it. Mental health issues and substance use disorders are treatable. Stories provide powerful opportunities to see and hear possibilities for health and wellness,” said Marie Gallo Dyak, President/CEO, Entertainment Industries Council, Inc. (EIC)
“We know entertainment media has a powerful impact on how we perceive and address emotional health, but too many aspects of the mental health continuum and groups facing unique struggles aren’t represented in the current storytelling landscape,” says Courtney Knowles, Senior Media Advisor for The Jed Foundation. “JED is proud to be part of a coalition that reflects the diversity and scope of expertise needed to expand representation, amplify impact and change lives.”
“Through its portrayal of people with mental health and addiction challenges, the entertainment industry plays an enormous role in how the public perceives people living with these conditions,” said Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health. “Sharing stories about mental health or substance use challenges is an important step toward improving the public’s understanding and reducing the stigma real people with these conditions face every day. And those stories must be accurate. Mental illness and addiction are real, common and treatable – recovery is possible. We look forward to working with the new coalition to ensure a more thoughtful portrayal of people with mental illness and addictions so we can separate fact from fiction.”
“The entertainment community plays a key role in strengthening mental wellness and suicide prevention,” said Colleen Carr, director of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention housed at the Education Development Center. “Content creators are uniquely positioned to connect with and educate audiences through accurate stories that highlight hope, help, wellness, and resiliency. The Mental Health Media Guide is a powerful tool to support the creative community in developing compelling and life-saving storylines.”
“How mental health is portrayed in film, television and other popular media deeply impacts the public discourse about and perceptions of people with mental illness,” said Glenn O’Neal, Chief Communication Officer at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “We’re proud to collaborate on this project so that the diverse experiences of people with mental health conditions are accurately represented, reducing stigma and discrimination.”
“In a ground-breaking collaborative effort, art and science are joining forces to help advance the way we communicate about mental health, substance use and suicide prevention,” said Dr. Dan Reidenberg, Executive Director of SAVE.org. “The new Mental Health Media Guide will help shape future generations’ understanding, acceptance of and need for care of our mental health and wellness. It will save lives.”
“After years of mental health experts, nonprofits, and advocates working with the entertainment industry, there is still significant room to improve the fair, accurate, and inclusive portrayal of mental health narratives in media. As the entertainment industry continues to include more storylines around LGBTQ youth, mental health, conversion therapy, and suicide, it’s important to reflect and validate these experiences without being sensational, and to showcase hope, resilience, and help-seeking. We’re grateful to be part of a changemaking coalition that worked to bring the Mental Health Storytelling Summit and Mental Health Media Guide to life, and to help provide ongoing guidance and resources to media and entertainment industry leaders,” said Amit Paley, CEO & Executive Director for The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people
“Good storytelling has the power to shape the way we talk about mental health in this country—normalizing it, providing education around it, and helping those with mental illness, particularly those in underrepresented groups, feel seen and less alone, and hopefully less afraid to show up in my office for treatment. It is critical that experts and the media work together to create true and lasting cultural change, and there is no better time than now,” said Dr. Jessi Gold, MS, MD, Assistant Professor and Director of Wellness, Engagement, and Outreach in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine
“Stories of hope can save lives,” says Kimberly Williams, President & CEO of Vibrant Emotional Health. “The pandemic has had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on our mental health. By coming together to change the conversation about mental health, this coalition of storytellers encourages and empowers other people to seek support and tell their story, particularly younger generations.”
Jo Flattery, Jo.Flattery@viacom.com