Why It's Time To Re-Brand Mental Health

Updated: Oct 21, 2019

Does the word "mental" begin to freak you out? For years, Hollywood has portrayed those with mental illness as outcasts of a civilized society, only to perpetuate generation upon generation of stigma surrounding mental health. Today, we know that 1:4 Americans struggle with depression, that more firefighters die today as a result of suicide than in fires, and that our society, while ever so connected, is stressed out beyond belief. As a mental health advocate and business executive, I took a deep dive looking into the current branding of "mental health" and began to question its tone and efficacy. In 2017, it is time to re-brand the mental health industry and here's why.


Branding and brand image makes or breaks companies. The power of a brand is conveyed in many ways: Color - red for excitement, green for peaceful, blue for trust; fonts - classic, nostalgic, bold; slogans carried on by generations - Just Do It!; and in modern day, driven by technological algorithms to amass likes, emoticons, and viral videos. In the end, a brand identifies winners from losers.While companies have brands, so-do entire industries, e.g. petroleum, law enforcement, fast food, etc. When x company or organization does wrong, people not only seek justice from that specific situation, they often demand industry-wide change which results in industries re-branding to protect their long-term positions and interests, e.g. "clean energy." The mental health industry is no different; it's a globally recognized brand - an identifying mark that drives $135 billion in annual revenue within the United States.Word marks help consumers identify products and services. Mental health is the current word mark in today's clinical world. Let's examine the root definitions that pair these two powerful words together that form the current brand - mental | health

By definition, mental means:

  1. of or relating to the mind

  2. of or relating to disorders of the mind

  3. insane; crazy

By definition, health means:

  1. the state of being free from illness or injury

  2. a person's mental or physical condition

There is a reason why stigma is ever prevalent in today's society when we continue to reinforce that a person's mind is insane or crazy by definition if they seek help within the mental health industry. We also prescribe that they are injured or ill by definition, not leaving leeway for more empathetic definitions.


Every great company still in existence today has gone through some form of re-branding in order to continue to demonstrate relevance to position itself for future success. In the world of mental health, we can and must do better at moving faster with proactive industry-wide strategies and inclusive best-practices in the workplace to support our people. When speaking last year at the first behavioral health conference before labor-management leaders, I voiced that not much has changed with PTSD, other than what we call it - "disorder" vs. calling it "burn-out" in 2001; today's definition being more of a formality for insurance billing purposes rather than a cultural shift to drive change and access to care when needed by qualified and competent providers. While our nation struggles to accept the reality and need for mental health services, those with common sense know that without a healthy mind, we will never see our society to its full potential.I proclaim, it time for a change; to re-brand the mental health industry and to replace mental with brain. If we focused on re-branding the industry as brain health, we could open up a wide array of positive research and stakeholder discussions to move forward without stigma as we support our nation in advancing total health via understanding the brain. Would you rather get care at a mental institution or a brain health support center?


When I speak to mixed audiences on mental health, including HR leaders, I simplify the need to focus on supporting people undergoing mental health challenges - be it acute or chronic, and that after-all, the brain gets people to Harvard!Society spends millions of dollars on education via academic institutions to achieve a degree, yet many of those degree holders remain ashamed of childhood trauma and settle for depression vs. opening up to get help; many spend millions and time on educating themselves over skin care products to protect the body's largest organ, yet fewer spend the money needed on counseling to live happier lives - stigma, cost, and access as key barriers.As leaders, we must understand the need to support the development and maintenance of people's brains and that people with healthy organs - be it skin, heart, lungs, and brain are more productive, and long-term, less costly to society. As employers, we need to ensure our people have the right support systems in place, beyond the current EAP model, and that the insurance industry humanizes the need for mental healthcare to breakdown barriers that limit access and knowledge to adequate care. As sick days rise due to new found stress, as younger people have strokes, we are missing the root-cause by supporting an out-dated brand called mental health - we must support total health, starting with a healthy mind.


If we recognize the power of the brain and remove the stigma associated with being "mental," I firmly believe that we will have a better approach in addressing the needs of our people and doing it with empathy, innovative research, and the fundamental belief that the resolve of all nations will perpetuate upon the pillar of proactive strategies supporting the brain health of all mankind.Why it's time to re-brand mental health to brain health:

  1. Big data shows big problems. It is time to evolve.

  2. Healthcare's business model is being challenged. Traditional companies can present a fresh look via total health, including the need to recognize brain health as a core driver that impacts other co-morbid diseases and their root causes.

  3. Mindfulness is 3,000 years old and still works today. There is a need to acknowledge the hybrid of eastern and western medicine, and to have insurers support people's choices if they are offered non-pharmacological alternatives to live healthier lives. Mindful, not mental.

  4. Geekiness and brain science is in. Make this relevant to the biggest brains around and they will support a paradigm shift.

  5. Stigma comes from poor labels. As consumers, we demand accurate labeling to make informed decisions and to avoid certain things. Labeling mental health as such drives poor outcomes. We need a fresh label to make it hip to seek counseling and OK to talk about this in society. We have a problem if people can Instagram their latest brand offering and not talk about their pain behind the facade of social media imagery. A healthy brain is smart, logical, and downright sexy - the opposite of someone who is "mental."

What are your thoughts on the stigma attached to mental health and access to care in your community? If you think we need to do more to support people please click Like!

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© 2019 by Drew Aversa