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Hertfordshire County Council - Just Talk

Mental health problems can impact anybody at any stage of their life. Many people are scared to open up about mental health issues but Hertfordshire Council and partner agencies from across the county made it their mission to help change this. They wanted to raise awareness and normalise speaking out about mental health, particularly among boys and young men. Jen Beer, children and young people’s health improvement lead for public health at Hertfordshire County Council, tells us how their campaign to get people to ‘Just Talk’ won a bronze public service communications excellence award.

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The challenge

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem. Twenty per cent of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year and 50 per cent of mental health problems are established by age 14. In Hertfordshire, 24,000 children aged 3-19 were diagnosed with a mental illness in 2014 alone. We knew this was something we had to address to help people get help and support before they reached a crisis point. In particular we wanted to raise awareness of mental health among boys and young men who have been historically harder to engage on this issue. We wanted to challenge the stigma and encourage young people to open up about their problems and understand that it’s okay not to be okay. We also wanted to increase the number of young people who said that they had healthy coping strategies to prevent feelings of isolation when they were worried or distressed.

The solution

We started by looking at the data.  Every two years Hertfordshire runs a health related behaviour questionnaire; we decided to use this as our main research base as thousands of children and young people participate. The questionnaire revealed that the most common coping strategies for our target audience (boys in years 8 to 10) when they were worried about something were isolated activities like listening to music (40 per cent) or mulling over the problem alone (33 per cent). Twenty one per cent of males (compared to 9 per cent of females) identified no coping strategies at all, with a further 13 percent saying they would do nothing.

This data, alongside a baseline questionnaire run specifically for this campaign which was completed by over 600 teenage boys, helped us to understand that if we wanted to have an impact, we needed to develop a campaign that deterred people from dealing with their problems alone and emphasised the importance of sharing and talking. We brought together a multi-agency steering group, which included partners such as; Hertfordshire Mind Network, Watford FC CSE, Time to Change and YC Hertfordshire, to discuss how to do this most effectively. We worked together, drawing on the research and questionnaire feedback, to develop some simple, but powerful key messages including ‘talking shows strength’ and ‘it’s ok not to be ok’. Once we had some key messages we worked together to run focus groups with young people in our target audience to develop a  campaign  name -  ‘Just Talk’ came out as the winner. We made sure that we included young people from the start and throughout the campaign, as they were our main target audience and we wanted their opinions and ideas to really shape and drive the campaign.

In particular, the young people we worked with helped us to understand that social media would be the most effective channel for reaching our target audience. We used all the normal social media sites but also paid for Snapchat advertising as our young people felt this would be a stronger way to reach a wider audience.

They also identified that our target audience would respond best to hearing our campaign messages from peers and role models rather than organisations like the council. We used this insight to recruit people in our target audience to get involved online by sharing their stories and tweeting or posting pictures of themselves with our #JustTalk promotional materials and sharing empowering and positive tags such as ‘talking shows strength’.

We also recruited some campaign champions including footballers from Watford FC and Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn, who featured in the documentary The Stranger on the Bridge after Neil saved Jonny from jumping off Waterloo Bridge in 2008. Jonny reflects on this experience to  open up publically about his struggles with mental health and emphasise the importance of talking to others. Their story reflected the central message of our campaign and we were delighted that both Jonny and Neil agreed to be the faces for our campaign.

As well as social media posts, we produced a number of short videos and photos of our role models supporting the campaign. We also created materials for parents and schools including lesson plans and training materials for staff. Twenty five secondary schools took part in the campaign launch in January 2018 with several running their own mental health conferences to promote the campaign’s key messages. We also suggested setting a voluntary homework piece which gave young people the chance to create a storyboard to feature as part of the campaign and two winners would be selected to turn their storyboards into real films.  The entries we received were creative, impactful and thought-provoking.

The impact

Once the campaign had launched the feedback we received was amazing. We engaged with over 4.5 million people, had 10 million impressions and connected with 60,000 young people. We even managed to get England footballer Jack Wilshere tweeting in support! Within the first week of the campaign we received 2,000 hits to the website. We received hundreds of entries for our storyboard competition and the two winners have already racked up over 28,000 views of their films. We secured coverage with the BBC and ITV, as well as radio interviews and features in our local papers. Importantly, we feel strongly that we have helped contribute to normalising conversation about mental health amongst young people. Next year’s health related behaviour questionnaire is currently underway and we’re hopeful that it will show that the campaign has had some measurable impacts on how young people cope with their worries.

Why it worked / how we’re sustaining it

We feel that having so many partner agencies involved in the campaign helped spread the word much more than we could have on our own. Having celebrities involved as role models helped too as it encouraged people to speak up and not feel embarrassed. Also, having teenage boys at the centre of the campaign helped with testing our research and steering the campaign plan in a way that would really meet the needs of other boys and young men.

Lessons learned

We learnt so much from running this campaign, from the importance of collaborating with partners, to using data to help shape the creative. A successful campaign is always trailed by the target audience first so talking to them and putting them at the centre of your work is really important. It’s also important to be realistic about costs and, make sure you plan early.

If we were to run the campaign again there are a few things that we would do differently. We’d would have liked to have used data from mental health services as well as the wider health questionnaire. We would also like to widen our toolkit out to youth clubs and colleges. Lastly, we’d strengthen the website which has some technical and navigational challenges. As our campaign was a joint partnership, a lot of people had access to it which made it harder to gain ownership and track activity.

Want to know more

For more information about this campaign please contact Jo Necchi, campaigns and communications officer – public health, Hertfordshire County Council.