|Jacob Berelowitz, founder and executive director of Talk Therapy Television|
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.