It’s time to talk openly about mental health. Here’s why and here’s how.

Written by
Rick Milenthal

Oct 15, 2019

Oct 15, 2019 • Author: Rick Milenthal

When it comes to our nation’s mental health, the numbers are staggering.

This year alone, 16 million Americans (or 7 percent of the U.S. population) will experience at least one major depressive episode, while 18 percent will suffer an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress or obsessive-compulsive disorder. All told, nearly 47 percent of U.S. adults will experience a mental illness during their lifetime.

Even more shocking, however, is how little attention we as a nation give to mental health care. Instead, we seem to go out of our way to avoid talking about it, making our mental health the invisible unseen burden for millions who carry it day after day…often feeling alone. As a result, we feel a stigma of shame regarding our symptoms and put off getting the help we or our loved ones need.

Maybe it’s not surprising, then, that experts estimate that 60 percent of adults with a mental illness won’t be treated for it this year.

The results of this problem are very stark. Suicide rates have steadily risen over the past 10 years, with increases seen across age, gender, race and ethnicity, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Tragically, suicide has also emerged as the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-19 years old.  It is an epidemic. An epidemic that is extremely personal to each and every employee at The Shipyard.

Last year, our Chief Strategy Officer David Grzelak and his wife Liz lost David II, their 17-year old son, to suicide. We are deeply saddened and humbled by this painful experience but have been inspired by David and Liz, because they have chosen the brave and unusual step of talking openly about this issue to reach others.

That’s why six months after their loss, The Shipyard launched a call to action to change the conversation around mental health. We call it “Communication Can Cure.”

Why would a marketing engineering agency think it can make a difference in mental health? Because while mental health is a very important medical issue, we also see it as a communications issue too. Opening a conversation on suicide and depression is something we know how to do. We are in the business of words. And words matter. Words can unite or divide. Words can inspire. And words can heal.

But first we must reach people in the venues and environments where they can be best found and engaged. That’s what led us to co-produce a music festival in our hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Called WonderBus, the event featured not only a weekend of music from some of the nation’s leading performers but a safe place to discuss mental health issues as well.  

As part of the event, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center launched #LaLaLa (or “Listen, Ask, Love, Act, Link, Advocate”) — a stigma-busting approach to learn how we can become allies to our friends and loved ones dealing with trauma and depression in their lives.

Everyone in our industry can play a significant role in reducing this epidemic of suicide in this nation. Whether a media professional, communicator, producer, publisher, writer or artist, all of us can be a catalyst for creating fresh conversations around one of the most difficult and personal topics there is: our mental health.

We can make this conversation happen in some of the most unlikely places we know, whether at music festivals, art shows, sporting events or other social gatherings. As communicators and marketers, our industry must put its expertise to work to “sell” this message in the most creative ways possible. 

Let’s lead the way to change the conversation in mental health. Let’s destigmatize the subject for millions of Americans — and inspire many others in our marketing and media industry together to make a difference.

Together we all can use our communication skills to change the trajectory of suicide in this county. Because not only do words matter. Words can save lives.


The article It’s time to talk openly about mental health. Here’s why and here’s how. first appeared on Ad Age.