Not so long ago, public conversations around mental health were still conducted largely in whispers.
But over the last year, as we’ve all been forced to grapple with the physical and emotional fallout of a pandemic coupled with political uncertainty, mental health has moved to the forefront of public conversation. People are talking about it openly, and brands are increasingly part of the conversation.
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That makes sense when you look at the numbers. The Global Wellness Institute reports that mental wellness is a $121 billion market based on consumer spend within senses, spaces and sleep; brain-boosting nutraceuticals and botanicals; self-improvement, and meditation and mindfulness.
According to a recent PBS report, “How the Pandemic Is Impacting College Student’s Mental Health,” 80 percent of students reported that COVID-19 has affected their mental health, spiritual health and career aspirations. The American Council on Education reported nearly 70 percent of college presidents say student mental health ranks among their top concerns.
According to Trendalytics, there are more than 110,000 average weekly searches for self care, up 25 percent to last year. Social posts for self care are up 33 percent and increased 14 percent for mental health.
Such statistics haven’t gone unnoticed by beauty and wellness brands, large and small.
Companies such as Rare Beauty, Topicals, Philosophy, The Nue Co and Maybelline New York all have programs addressing mental health concerns. When done correctly, such initiatives don’t just imbue a brand with purpose, they are truly beneficial for consumers.
“When a beauty brand embraces mental health as a cause, along with that comes encouragement and recognition,” said Katrina Gay, interim chief development officer, strategic alliance and development at National Alliance on Mental Health. “We can help ourselves, we can help one another, and help eliminate some of that stigma that often keeps people from asking for help.”
Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty made mental health a pillar of its launch, reinforcing the openness with which Gomez has brought to her own personal struggles. It created the Rare Impact Fund, which plans to raise $100 million over the next 10 years to support nonprofit organizations and strategic initiatives that help bridge access to mental health services in underserved communities. One percent of every purchase goes to the Fund.
“A big part of our community is the Gen Z population and they’re said to be the loneliest generation, but also one that’s more open to talking about mental health,” said Elyse Cohen, vice president of social impact. “We saw this as an opportunity to leverage our platform and power and help with access to resources and do that through the lens of beauty and our founder, Selena Gomez.”
With authentic influence comes results. After Rare Beauty signed NAMI’s Stigma-free pledge, which can be taken by an individual or brand to create a culture of openness, acceptance and understanding about employees’ overall health and well-being, Gomez called on her beauty peers via LinkedIn on Oct. 10, World Mental Health Day, to take the pledge. That day Maybelline New York did so, and shortly after, Wander Beauty, Drunk Elephant, Benefit Cosmetics, Herbivore Botanicals, Elf Cosmetics, Jouer, Milk Makeup and First Aid Beauty followed suit.
Rare Beauty also created a mental health council, comprised of 13 individuals ranging from mental health experts to those in the entertainment, beauty and media industries. The goal is to help generate content and resources that address the facts and challenges around mental health.
When it comes to content, Rare Beauty pays equal attention to its makeup products as to mental health tips. “Looking at our Instagram metrics and the number of saved posts, our Rare Impact tips are saved as frequently as some of our makeup tips or a Selena selfie,” said Katie Welch, chief marketing officer. “Which is exactly the intent. We want to create content that is beneficial and used by our community. There’s no hard and fast rule that a cosmetics brand has to be only about beauty.”
Topicals is another company that has committed funds to mental health organizations from its inception, donating $10,000 and giving 1 percent of its profit to raise awareness around the connection between mental health and skin health. “Taking care of yourself and taking care of your skin goes deeper than just buying skin care products,” said Claudia Teng, cofounder and chief product officer of Topicals. “There needs to be more conversation, interaction and awareness brought to it.”
Topicals has crafted content to normalize the conversation. For example, it created a skin care advice portal called Skin, Sun and Stars, an interactive game that offers skin care advice based on a customer’s horoscope. The brand then donated $1 per person that played to The Sad Girls Club, a mental health nonprofit specifically for women of color.
“We’re trying to have deeper, more nuanced conversations around how your skin health and skin experience affects the way that you see yourself and the way that you move through the world,” Teng said. “Having people speak for themselves and give voice to their own experiences is a great way to do that.”
The Nue Co, too, has built mental health into its brand DNA. In 2019, it launched the “How Are You Really” campaign. It was the largest investment the brand had ever put into media and it was activated through various influencers giving a voice to those who don’t usually have one. “When we launched that campaign, it was a struggle to get buy-in from the mentors and advisers around us,” said Jules Miller, founder and chief executive officer. “But mental health is the backbone to physical health and it feeds into our mission.”
A slew of The Nue Co’s products directly correlate with mental health. Its most recent launch, Forest Lungs, a fragrance that delivers the healing effects of nature, is meant to replicate the molecular compounds produced by trees, phytoncides. Phytoncides are credited for the health benefits associated with forest bathing, namely stress reduction, anxiety reduction and boosting the parasympathetic nervous system. “It sold out in the pre-order stage,” Miller said. “Because of COVID-19, we didn’t have any samples. So no one purchased it because they liked the scent. They purchased it because the narrative meant something to them.”
It’s not just indie brands, either. On World Mental Health Day, Maybelline New York announced its Brave Together initiative, which is dedicated to breaking the stigma around anxiety and depression while addressing challenges and providing resources to those in need, specifically for Gen Z. The brand plans to donate $10 million over the next five years to mental health organizations like Crisis Text Line, NAMI and the JED Foundation. It has also created a digital resource site with tips from mental health experts including Elyse Fox of Sad Girls Club, Larissa May of Half the Story, and Liz Beecroft, a licensed master social worker.
“Our brand values were always about empowerment, diversity, inclusion and education,” said Amy Whang, senior vice president of U.S. marketing, “but we wanted to look at a cause where we could affect our consumers in a very scalable way. We wanted to take our global footprint to address the topic that directly affects our consumers starting at a young age.”
Maybelline has enlisted Kathleen Pike, director of The Center for Global Mental Health at Columbia University, to compile a global report focused on anxiety and depression in Gen Z women, and launched a co-branded text line in partnership with Crisis Text Line, to provide access to free, confidential counseling “We found that early intervention and access to one-on-one support can really help make a difference in a Gen Z’s life,” Whang said.
Philosophy, too, looks to empower its consumers through self care, community and education. Since launching its Hope & Grace initiative in 2014, the brand has donated $5.4 million to community-based organizations committed to mental health efforts. It has continued to normalize the conversation around mental health with programs like “Staying in With Philosophy,” a weekly Instagram live series created to help provide mental health tools, resources and coping mechanisms while confined due to COVID-19.
“We’ve seen interest and engagement at 200 percent to the industry average,” said Margot Humber, senior vice president. “Our Instagram followers have grown in just the last [two] months, she continued, noting that an October event with NAMI ambassadors Elise Banks and Brooke Johnson had a reach 77 percent higher than average for the brand.
Brands are also launching products that blur the lines between physical and mental health. Klur, a botanical-based skin care collection, and Arrae, a line of supplements that treat stress and gut health, are two examples. “We’re a skin health brand and mental health and skin health are intertwined,” says Lesley Thornton, founder of Klur. “We have the science and the data to prove that these things are intrinsically linked. When we have mental health conversations on our platform and make them a gentle gesture, we call it community care. You can’t have community care without talking about mental health. How can I care about my community if I’m not asking how they’re doing.”
For its part, Arrae launched with two supplements called Bloat and Calm because of how closely gut health and anxiety are connected. “When you’re anxious, your body goes into fight or flight and it makes it very difficult to digest food,” said Siffat Haider, cofounder and CEO. “That’s why so many women deal with digestive discomfort or bloating when they’re feeling anxious.”
That one-two punch — providing both support and products — is what resonates most deeply with consumers looking for solace and solutions. “They want to feel that personal connection and that their brand cares about them and the things that are important to them,” said Kelly Davis, associate vice president of peer and youth advocacy for Mental Health America, adding, “in addition to making a product that they like.”
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