Matthew Miller
Oct 9, 2020

Awareness, normalisation and empathy: A dozen standout campaigns about mental health

In honour of World Mental Health Day, we picked 12 of the best recent mental-health campaigns from APAC and beyond.

Awareness, normalisation and empathy: A dozen standout campaigns about mental health

Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day, and to mark the role our industry has played in raising understanding about issues such as anxiety, depression and suicide, we present this list of a dozen excellent and mostly recent mental-health campaigns. This collection, presented in no particular order, builds on an APAC-only list we published a few years ago, and even includes one of the examples mentioned there. But it also roams further around the world in an attempt to present the cream of the crop in this area (plus a few gems from further in the past, thrown in as bonuses). If we've missed great work that you think deserves notice, especially from around APAC, please let us know.

1. Behind the mask
2020 | Hong Kong
For Mind HK by Creative Theory Group

We'll start close to home with this empathetic work from the fine people at MindHK. Like many of this year's mental-health campaigns, it focuses on stresses exacerbated by the pandemic. But we find the central concept—of people's real struggles being hidden behind a mask (literal or figurative)—to be eloquent and worth remembering even in non-pandemic years.

2. Suicide notes talk too late
2016 | Australia
For The Movember Foundation by Cummins & Partners

This campaign made our earlier list and appears here as well because it's one of the most powerful and hard-to-shake pieces of work you're likely to ever see, full stop.

3. Locked down and out
2020 | UK
For the LGBT Foundation by The Gate

Another lockdown-inspired piece, this is a beautifully made film about a beautiful person facing a horrifying situation. It's also a great example of how, at its best, our industry can advance understanding and empathy by helping people see from different perspectives.  

4. Hidden pain
2013 | Singapore
For the Samaritans of Singapore by Publicis Singapore 

The oldest campaign on this list made a lasting impression by vividly demonstrating that signs of distress can be hidden in plain sight.

5. Whatever gets you talking
2020 | USA
For the Ad Council by Droga 5

The US Ad Council has been working on its 'Seize the awkward' theme for a few years, urging people to overcome their reticence to ask friends and loved ones how they're really doing. This year, the campaign centrepiece is this delightful and advice-filled music video by a rapper called Akinyemi.

Bonus: Here's another piece of 2020 work under the 'Seize the awkward' platform:

Bonus 2: And another 'Seize the awkward' bit from 2018:



The industry doesn't always get it right when attempting to talk about mental-health issues. Here's one example of how not to do it from our archives plus a second example where a campaign just landed wrong (coverage by CNBC).

No, a keyboard app can't 'prevent tragedy from depression'
2018 | Thailand
Samsung and BBDO claim a new keyboard app performs a kind of emotional autocorrect. But the companies have gone too far in their claims, and the tool doesn't seem to work very well either.

Burger King faces backlash after linking ad campaign to mental health

6. Knowing nothing
2019 | China
For CEO Roundtable on Cancer-China by BBDO Shanghai

The responsibility employers hold for ensuring the mental health of the people they employ has rightfully gained attention over the last few years. This twist-ending story from China makes the case in a highly compelling way. 

7. John Kirwan
New Zealand

No list about mental-health campaigns in APAC would be complete without discussing the partnership between the New Zealand government and retired rugby great John Kirwan, which stretches back to the late 1990s. By frankly and openly discussing his struggles with depression, Kirwan has made an enormous difference in erasing stigma and encouraging people to seek help. We can't find the earliest ads online, but here's two examples from 2010 and 2013.   

8. #GiveSubtitlesToSuicide
2018 | India
For the Suicide Prevention India Foundation by WATConsult

This video is meant for repeat viewings: first with closed-captioning off and then again with captions on. A clever use of technology to call attention to unspoken signs of struggle. 

9. Ask twice
2018 | UK
For Time to Change by Ogilvy

This one stands out for using humour to make a great point, which is perhaps not surprising for an organisation partly funded by Comic Relief.

Bonus: Time to Change has been at it on this issue for a long time. 'The Stand Up Kid', from 2012, is an absolute gem:

Bonus 2: This 2011 Time to Change effort is also excellent: 

10. Naughty or...
2019 | US
For the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) by Wieden+Kennedy New York.

It might seem weird to have a Christmas campaign in a collection of mental-health work, but please, please watch this remarkable video. A long, slow zoom accentuates an incredible performance by Greg Hildreth (say his name, because performers in this industry never get enough credit!), as Santa's seemingly unfocused musings home in on an important realisation. This is an uncommonly thoughtful message, perfectly delivered.  

11. Depression looks different for everybody
2019 | Australia
For WA Primary Health Alliance by Rare

This elaborate campaign out of Western Australia paired people who have suffered from depression with artists who transformed their states of mind into works of art. We particularly like Michael's vivid description of the black rhino on his shoulder (video below), but all of the stories and paintings (pictured below) are worth a look. They not only expand our understanding of the many ways depression can manifest but also urge us to see beauty in the way people fight to recover. 

12. Safety is everything
2019 | Australia
For WorkSafe Tasmania by Red Jelly

Great filmmaking craft delivers a great message about how workplace safety should mean more than dry floors and ergonomic chairs. (See two more videos from the same campaign.) 


Campaign Asia

Related Articles

Just Published

1 day ago

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy on using AI to win over ...

The e-commerce giant’s CEO revealed fresh insights into the company's future plans on all things consumer behaviour, AI, Amazon Ads and Prime Video.

1 day ago

James Hawkins steps down as PHD APAC CEO

Hawkins leaves PHD after close to six years leading the agency, and there will be no immediate replacement for him.

1 day ago

Formula 1 Shanghai: A watershed event for brand ...

With Shanghai native Zhou Guanyu in the race, this could be the kickoff to even more fierce positioning among Chinese brands.

2 days ago

Whalar Group appoints Neil Waller and James Street ...

EXCLUSIVE: The duo will lead six business pillars and attempt to win more creative, not just creator, briefs with the hire of Christoph Becker as chief creative officer.