- Ensure social media, marketing, and promotional content follows mental health best practices.
- When releasing content that involves mental health in a significant way, consider using a content warning to set expectations and allow viewers to make an informed choice about watching.
- Include a resource or call-to-action (CTA) to support and empower viewers
Over half of respondents in a recent ViacomCBS & Well Being Trust survey had recently watched a film or television show that left them feeling more sad, anxious, or stressed than usual after the viewing experience. 1 in 3 respondents said these difficult feelings lasted for hours, and 1 in 5 said they lasted more than one day. The emotional impact can be more profound for people who are managing a mental health condition.
We have an opportunity to decrease the audience’s negative emotional response and/or turn difficult feelings into productive actions by:
- Before: Setting expectations and providing warnings at the beginning of content, and/or in marketing around content. We want to empower people who are struggling or triggered by certain types of stories to be able to make an informed decision about watching and not be caught off guard.
- During: Providing resources to viewers who might struggle emotionally because of the viewing experience or because they relate to mental health themes in the content.
- After: Partnering with a nonprofit organization or campaign to create ongoing programming or experiences that help audience members take positive actions.
Below are some more specific tips to consider in three areas: Marketing and Promotion, Viewing Experience, and Providing Resources & Calls-to-Action.
Marketing and Promotion
- Apply Storytelling Tips to Promotional Content and Trailers. When developing trailers, marketing materials and other video packages that contain elements of mental health storylines or themes, ensure there is a review process so these standalone media experiences can reflect effective and safe messaging guidelines. For example, a concerning behavior by a character with a mental health condition may not be problematic in the context of a full movie because it’s addressed in more detail or presented alongside other humanizing and relatable aspects of the character’s personality. This same behavior out of context, in a trailer or video package, might reinforce harmful stereotypes about people living with that condition.
- Review Social Media Content. Review social media marketing plans with your mental health advisor to ensure the messaging and approach is safe for everyone in your online audience, including individuals who may be struggling or in distress. If you’re going to promote mental health concepts or talk about challenges, conditions, and negative outcomes on a platform where those subjects aren’t normally addressed, talk to your advisor about creating a response plan if viewers express a need for support or thoughts of self-injury in the comments.
- Educate Cast Involved in Promotion. While most social media content can be reviewed and vetted ahead of time, some promotion plays out in real time — like press interviews, live streams, and cast members live tweeting while audience members are watching online or on TV. Make sure cast members have safe messaging guidelines and resources they can highlight. In addition to messaging around the film or show itself, ensure they know language that should be avoided, stereotypes that shouldn’t be perpetuated, and messages for people who may be struggling like: If watching this episode/film brings up difficult feelings for you, you aren’t alone. Text START to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK for confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7 OR If you or someone you know are struggling emotionally, head to www.[URL].com for ways to get help
Content Descriptions and Warnings
- Reframe the concept of trigger warnings. Films and shows that deal with difficult topics like substance misuse, self-injury, and suicide, often put trigger warnings at the beginning of that content that may specify or imply certain groups of people — like suicide survivors or sexual assault survivors — might not want to watch the content, or may want to proceed with caution. While it’s good to protect viewers from content that might be uncomfortable, bring up distressing memories, or make them want to act on unhealthy behaviors like substance misuse and self-injury — there has been research that shows trigger warnings can do more harm than good in certain situations. This research points to two primary areas of concern: first, trigger warnings could imply that people can’t watch content because of an experience they’ve lived through may frame that experience as too big a part of their identity; and second, they may say that avoidance may not be an effective part of recovery for some individuals, since we can’t create a world where they will never come into contact with that type of content. Think about moving past the concept and language of “trigger warnings,” and instead help viewers understand the types of discussions and depictions in the media, so they can make a decision about what they as individuals can and can’t handle at the moment of viewing.
- Set viewer expectations. Descriptive language can help give viewers a sense of the scale of the potential concern without a direct trigger warning. For example, you can specify whether an issue is depicted or discussed (mentions/discussions of sexual assault vs depictions of sexual assault), the frequency at which it occurs (one scene contains depictions of drug use), or details about depictions (brief depiction of self-injury vs graphic depiction of self-injury). An example could be “The following episode tells the real stories of young people struggling with addiction, trauma, and other mental health issues.” This leaves it to the viewer to decide if they want to watch, without implying that there are certain people or groups that aren’t capable of handling the content.
- Give viewers coping tools. Another approach is to help equip viewers with tools to make it through content that may feel intense or overwhelming. Consider using language like: This episode deals with depression and suicide. If at any point you’re feeling overwhelmed, we encourage you to press pause to take a deep breath, go for a walk, or visit our resource page at www.[URL].com for some quick, calming exercises. You can jump back in whenever you’re ready.
Resources and Calls-to-Action
Remember to connect with the organization or resource you’re highlighting before including them in your content or online landing pages. Find recommended resources and contact information here.
- Provide resources. If your project includes content that could contribute to an emotional reaction or bring up difficult feelings for viewers, it’s helpful to develop at least one call to action (CTA) to help the audience cope with the feelings, reach out for help, and take action. For example, you could provide phone or text support line information, a link to a website that offers information and support options or a pathway to engage in activism around expanding mental healthcare.
- Create landing pages. Less than 20% of people say they would be likely to call or text a hotline, and only 25% would reach out for professional help as a first step after viewing content. Consider creating a landing page that includes both the hotlines and resources for seeking help, as well as steps people can take at home, like watching advisor-approved videos to learn more, practicing self-care, or following tips for reaching out to friends they may be worried about.
- Consider CTA placement. Viewers may be more likely to take help-seeking actions if the call to action comes soon after the scene(s) that created difficult feelings and they can access said resources right after the information appears on the screen. Consider placing CTAs for films at the end, before the credits, and CTAs for series before the commercial break immediately following the scene in question. Ideally, the CTA and resources will be presented again at the end of the episode, though for streaming series without commercial breaks, the CTA can live at the end of the episode.
- Keep URLs memorable. Viewers will need to retain or quickly capture the resource information shared on screen, so try to make it as simple as possible. Where possible, make URLs short and easy to remember. Sometimes it’s effective to secure a shorter URL for your site or a landing page within your site for on-screen usage. Present text or phone support in the easiest to remember format, like “Text START to 741-741” or “Call 1-800-273-TALK.”
- Match the Story’s Tone. Ideally, the tone of the content and the CTA should align. If it’s a primarily playful or light film or show, then it might be disorienting for the audience to see a disclaimer with clinical language in it. Instead of “If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of a mental health problem, find treatment options at “www.[URL].com” you might consider “If you or someone you know are struggling emotionally, find ways to get help and feel better at www.[URL].com.”
- Use Stories as a Resource. Viewers can become very attached to cast members on unscripted shows, and when they struggle emotionally it can feel personal, as though a friend is having a hard time. Consider having the cast member who struggled record follow-up videos talking about what they have overcome since filming and how they are managing their struggles. These can live on your resource or landing page.