1. Include personal perspectives and relevant expert voices
    1. Find ways to complement personal perspectives with expert voices. Avoid presenting hosts, contributors, or guests as experts if they don’t have the experience and knowledge to play that role.
  2. Show challenges and solutions
    1. Tell safe stories that paint a picture of both mental health challenges and ways to overcome or manage those challenges.
  3. Offer sensitive content warnings  
    1. Present content warnings, if needed, in a way that allows listeners to make their own decisions about if, when, and how they’ll listen. 

Storytelling Tips

Work with an expert advisor or nonprofit partner to ensure mental health discussions or storylines are safe and positioned to have a positive impact on your audience’s mental health

  • Tell stories that paint a picture of both mental health challenges and ways to overcome or manage those challenges. Focusing heavily on negative impacts, without as much emphasis on the help-seeking, coping, and the recovery process can leave listeners who are currently struggling feeling more depressed, anxious, or hopeless, without a clear call to action.
  • Avoid graphic descriptions of self-injury, drug use, or suicide that may contribute to urges or difficult feelings in listeners with personal experience with mental health struggles. Follow language guidance and safe messaging strategies if talking about mental health conditions, substance misuse, self-injury, or suicide.
  • Avoid details that could be perceived as instructional. First-person narratives on podcasts that address substance misuse, self-harm, or suicide sometimes go into detail about the “how” — how they obtained drugs, hid them, obtained means for suicide, etc. People in distress may misconstrue this information as “ideas.” This could ultimately put them at higher risk. 
  • Don’t use potentially harmful or fatal behaviors like substance misuse or suicide to purely create drama or as a cliffhanger from one episode to the next. 

Draw distinctions between personal experiences and approaches that work for an individual, versus evidence-based information, tips, and resources

  • Encourage hosts, contributors, or guests sharing their personal experiences to use first-person statements and phrases like “in my experience” or “this is what works for me personally.” Everyone has unique factors that impact our mental health and what helps one person take care of their emotional health may not work for someone else. 
  • If the content you create for your platforms and channels allows for guests or expert commentary, look to integrate professional perspectives. For example, prompt listeners to submit questions related to the show’s mental health themes and periodically bring experts on to answer some of them.

Present content warnings, if needed, in a way that allows listeners to make their own decision about if, when, and where they’ll listen

  • Prepare your audience for discussion or storytelling around issues that are sensitive or potentially distressing without making assumptions about who can “handle” it. 
  • Research has shown that overly prescriptive trigger warnings are not universally helpful. Implying that certain groups of people or individuals can’t handle content because of an experience they’ve lived through may frame that experience as overly central to their identity. Additionally, avoidance may not be an effective form of recovery for some individuals.
  • Consider placing content warnings at the top of the show and immediately before the relevant content, then include a call to action with resources at the end of the show, where listeners can get support. 
  • The following is an example of an effective content warning: “We’re about to talk about [XYZ]. We encourage you to pause whenever you need to. Visit [website name and url] for resources.”

If mental health, substance misuse, or suicide come up in your podcast, provide support and resources for hosts, guests, or listeners who may be struggling 

  • Your expert advisor or nonprofit partner can suggest resources for listeners, and help develop protocols for responding to anyone expressing distress, a need for help, or suicidal thoughts via social media or email. 
  • If mental health is a recurring theme on your podcast, consider creating a custom landing page with a tone that matches your series and a selection of relevant resources. 
  • Your call to action can be placed verbally in-show as well as in the episode description.
  • The following is an example of an effective call to action: “If you or someone you know is struggling with their emotional health, head to [resource name] for support.”
  • Our Expert Directory can help you identify potential advisors, partner organizations, and resources to highlight.

Understand the impact that ancillary content like clips, trailers, and social content can have on viewers

  • Clips, trailers, press releases, or social posts used for promotion should also follow messaging guidelines and not be problem focused or graphic in ways that could distress listeners. This is especially important for ads and trailers since they are generally presented without full context and may not emphasize the solution-focused elements, resources, or calls to action that are included in a full episode or series.  
  • Make sure ads or promos during the podcast are appropriate given the podcast’s mental health discussion. For example, an ad for a liquor brand during an episode about alcohol misuse could be problematic for listeners who are struggling themselves. 


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