Thursday, February 10, 2011

Grocery Receipts for Mental Health

By: Jacob Berelowitz, LMSW

Jacob Berelowitz, founder and executive director of Talk Therapy Television
This entry by guest blogger Jacob Berelowitz is an example of the kind of work NAMI was founded upon—ordinary people finding creative solutions to help address the challenges faced by people living with mental illness and their families. From getting involved in our StigmaBusters campaign to contacting legislators to becoming an educational support group instructor, there are many ways to bring the NAMI message of awareness, education, and advocacy to the community.

It all began during my time as a clinical social worker in a psychiatric hospital. Every day I saw people that could have avoided crisis and hospitalization had they known a little more about mental illness. The stigma, misinformation and general lack of focus on this area of health contributed to people needing the level care provided by a hospital instead of a lower level of support that would not intrude on their daily life in the same way. Witnessing this made me feel I had to find a way to get more accurate information out to the public about mental illness.

I founded Talk Therapy Television with this motivation in mind. This cable television show on mental illness, Talk Therapy TV, is broadcast throughout New York City. However, I am always looking for new and innovative ideas on how to raise awareness and knowledge about mental illness.

The Quick Fact Campaign

I had just finished shopping at my local grocery store and the cashier gave me my receipt. I turned it over and found a coupon printed on the back and had an ah-ha moment. Why not put mental health information on the backs of these receipts and spread the word in a new way? The Mental Health Quick Facts Campaign was born.

When we met with the company, I was delighted to discover that they had an appreciation for the cause and were willing to help out. As we thought about it more, we realized that with the limited amount of space on the receipt, the message would have to be short but still create an impact. Borrowing a move from Snapple’s playbook—their bottle caps printed with “Real Facts”—we decided to put facts about mental illness on the backs of the receipts. These “Quick Facts” would get the conversation going and inspire people to learn more. We then created a website connected to the campaign where people can get more information about mental illness.

We now print thought-provoking facts about mental illness on the backs of receipts at major grocery stores throughout New York City, including Stop & Shop, Pathmark and ShopRite. Just a few months later, an average of 25,000 shoppers every day are handed receipts with Quick Facts printed on them.

Media Coverage

The initiative engaged the public so well that the NY Daily News wrote an article about it and asked their readers for feedback. When I noticed that alongside the online article they posted a poll asking “Are people undereducated on mental health issues?” I realized that they were trying to get a sense of how important this issue is to their readers.

It is important for all of us who care about mental illness to vote on the poll. As we were recently reminded with the Arizona tragedy, media coverage for mental illness is almost always attached to tragedy, violence and sensationalism. What is unique about this Daily News article is that they covered the topic of mental illness without any tragedy associated with it or motivating the discussion. In fact, it was a positive story about the movement to generate awareness for mental illness. Hopefully, our responses will inspire the Daily News to continue reporting on positive stories about mental illness and awareness.

A Final Note

As I reflect on the beginnings of the Quick Facts campaign, I realize that it all started with an idea during an ordinary shopping experience. I have seen receipts with ads printed on their backs for years but never thought to use it for mental health awareness. What changed?  Because I was in the mindset of looking for ways to promote awareness, I noticed the receipts. Sometimes, all it takes is opening your eyes and paying attention to find a whole new way to get the message out to the public.

Jacob Berelowitz, LMSW, is the founder and executive director of Talk Therapy Television. He can be reached at


Chris in NYC said...

What a good idea. The more the public knows, the more dollars will go into conquering mental illnesses of all kinds.

aknowles said...

What a wonderful idea! Making use of every day activities is a non-evasive way to educate without people even realizing it.

Malcolm Varner said...

To echo the previous to comments, that is an awesome idea to inform people and generate an interest in them to possibly learn more. Yet another reason why I love NYC.

Anonymous said...

Jacob Berelowitz wonderful thinking so much like your ancestry to come up with these helpful, healthful ways. Keep up the good work for Humanity...may humanity love the Jews all over for what they do every day for our world!!!

Anonymous said...

This blog and NAMI's description of Berelowitz's action makes me a little queasy. While I do agree that education on mental illness is essential, I visited the Quick Facts Web site and viewed the grocery receipt example. It's little more than an ad for Talk Therapy TV and Berelowitz.

I'm not knocking Berelowitz! He's got to advertise, and he's found a way to reach an audience.

Having been a marketing professional for a decade, I have to wonder if educating people about mental illness was a byproduct of an advertising campaign and not the original impetus for the grocery receipts; as was suggested in the blog.

Don't get me wrong. It's a great byproduct. But I'm not quite ready to award Berelowitz a NAMI humanitarian of the year award just yet.

If I'm being too cynical and suspicious, I apologize to Berelowitz and NAMI. Perhaps his motivation was sincere from the start. Perhaps NAMI's description of his actions are accurate. Perhaps he really is fiercely dedicated to helping others.

Chelsea said...

Everything old is new again. When I served on the board of NAMI/NYC circa 1996, I started a Cable TV show called Mental Illness Update. It was orginally filmed at Fountain House and then moved to Manhattan Cable facilities. Later, Rhoda Price took it over and I think it ran for over 10 years.
DJ Jaffe

plyihcky247 said...

Mental HEALTH. not Mental Illness. We should use the term Mental Health as often as we can in order to remove the stigma attached to illness.

plyihcky247 said...

We should make ballcaps to read: Under this ball cap is a brain that supports mental health ! Do you ? Or something along that line.

Anonymous said...

Almost anything that enlightens and presents the positive and conveys hope to the public about mental illness is a good move. It would be nice if it were not commercialized. What about a postage stamp?
And in response to Plyihcky247, I disagree. It is not, not, not about mental health at this stage. It is about mental illness. Would you use the term cancer health in speaking of someone fighting cancer? Our loved ones are fighting a real disease and they deserve respect. It is not about mental health until mental illness is eradicated

Anonymous said...

I agree with giving
the message about mental health issues as much exposure as possible. Having served as foster parents for nine years, I spent a lot of time in the public health clinics, where tv's in the waiting rooms often blasted out "Judge Judy" or "Jerry Springer" or other mindless, harmful and uneducational views. I continuously gave feedback to the workers in the office to use those tv's as an opportunity to "teach" child care, physical and mental wellness. Especially in light of continued budget cuts, may we strive in our communities to use every opportunity to reach out!

nasy said...

I think its a great idea because many people do not know about mental illness. Although someone sais the comments on the receipt were not great. At least it is a start. My son has been diagnosed for almost 2 years and he is sad sometimes. it is amazing how little people know.I would like to get awareness to the high schools as that is where these things start .

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the comment about sticking with the term mental illness rather than softening our language.

hpiwmn said...

I have lived with fair to poor mental health most of my life. I believe it is important to put as much of a positive connotation on this issue as possible. I also believe it is important to use all avenues of communication available to inform the public and destigmatize negative mental health issues. Ignorance breeds fear. Fear creates irreperable damage to those living with mental health disorders and the community. Education is beginning. Bravo Berelowitz.

Anonymous said...

Hey im new here.

Im sam, how is everyone?

I look forwards to being a active memeber

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