Has mental health become a retail marketing issue?

Dec 15, 2022

This is the third in a series of articles from members of RetailWire’s BrainTrust panel speculating on coming retail trends and developments for 2023.

Mental health oriented messaging is quickly becoming table stakes for retailers that cater to next gen consumers.

Seventy-one percent of Gen Z consumers like when brands make mental health a part of their marketing, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Whether it’s hosting a concert where the proceeds go to mental health awareness or building an entire brand around mental health oriented messaging, retailers will need to find authentic ways to bring attention and funding to mental health awareness.

Interest in mental health advocacy has grown as more Americans have personally struggled with issues since the outset of the pandemic.

In APA survey of psychologists found that:

  • Seventy-nine percent have seen an increase in patients with anxiety disorders;
  • Sixty-six percent saw a jump in the demand for treatment for depression;
  • Forty-seven percent reported higher demand for substance abuse treatment;
  • Sixty-four percent saw increased need for trauma treatment;
  • The severity of symptoms increased in two-thirds of cases.

The pervasiveness of mental health issues has stretched across society and raised awareness for the issue. Members of Gen Z, many of whom were forced into distance learning scenarios away from friends as a result of the pandemic, now see the issue in terms of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and are willing to reward retailers and brands that move beyond lip service to support employees and customers who are struggling.

Publications including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Glossy and the Editorialist have all published articles on top mental health oriented brands in the past two years.

The Retail Council of Canada recently released a “Mental Health in Retail Guidebook.”

New brands like CHNGEwhich hawk sustainable apparel with messages like “It’s ok to cry,” are emerging every day.

JanSport created a #lightentheload mental wellness initiative, sharing videos of young people candidly discussing their mental health struggles and triumphs on Instagram live episodes and the retailer’s website.

The mental health narrative differs from sustainability or political narratives in a few key ways. Sustainability and politics need to be addressed on a macro level, talking about how the actions of the retailer in question fit into a global narrative. Mental health, on the other hand, is highly personal. The most effective mental health messaging comes from the individuals who experience mental health struggles or professionals who are qualified to speak to them.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will Gen Z consumers become more or less interested in positive mental health messaging in the coming years? Will mental health oriented messaging remain exclusive to Gen Z and Millennials, or will brands serving Gen X and Boomers getting in on the action?


“This is the natural evolution of ‘Do Good’ and ‘Be Kind’ t-shirt messaging that has become increasingly prevalent among a plethora of brands”


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