With suicide being the second leading cause of death for young adults in the US, the Ad Council has a new campaign, ‘Seize the Awkward,’ to empower teens and young adults to reach out to friends with mental health issues who may be at risk for suicide.
The Ad Council joined the Jed Foundation (JED), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and Droga5 to launch the national public service campaign.
While it’s never easy to talk about mental health issues, this approaches the subject with awkward humor. ‘Seize the Awkward’ encourages teens and young adults, particularly those ages 16-24, to create a safe space for their friends to open up about mental health challenges. The campaign personifies an awkward silence that can happen between friends before a conversation about mental health. A character, Awkward Silence, portrayed by Broadway actor Gideon Glick, shows viewers the opportunity that exists in recognizing something is wrong and breaking through an awkward silence between friends – and encourages them to use this moment to check in and ask about their mental health. He pops up in between two friends on a couch, sitting in awkward silence. He wedges between two people in bed, in the middle of two friends in a hot tub, and even squeezes in between two football players at a urinal.
Beginning today (January 17), the campaign will activate by a group of media partners and platforms, including BuzzFeed, Chegg, Esquire, Upworthy, Colossal Media, Facebook, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Reddit, Wattpad and YouTube.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults, and for every youth suicide, 100-200 others attempt suicide, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Young adulthood is a critical time when many young people experience mental health issues as well as significant stress from life transitions such as gaining more independence and responsibility when moving from home and beginning college or a career. In fact, 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and 75% start by age 24 (NAMI). Friends of young adults are often the first to recognize signs of an emerging mental health problem or crisis and an estimated 76% of young adults turn to a peer in a time of crisis for support (The First-Year College Experience Survey; mtvU/JED).
“Suicide prevention is increasingly gaining awareness and attention in the national media, but Seize the Awkward marks the start of a collective movement to empower this generation to do something,” said Lisa Sherman, president and chief executive officer of the Ad Council. “This campaign gives young adults the tools and specific language they need to embrace the critical moment of awkward silence in a way that could have a life-saving impact.”
The campaign directs audiences to SeizeTheAwkward.org, a new website created by Haus that provides various resources to help young people reach out to a friend who may be struggling with mental health problems. Resources include tutorial videos, information on warning signs, conversation starters, tips on how to sustain a conversation around mental health, and video testimonials on mental health from talents such as Hannah Hart, Liza Koshy, Remi Cruz, and Tyler Posey.
“Mental health is still something of a stigmatized topic among adults and young adults alike. Our aim with Seize the Awkward is to open the lines of communications among friends at risk in an approachable, thoughtful way,” said Ted Royer, chief creative officer of Droga5. “When we see something troublesome, or worse, in our friends and we find the courage to speak to them, we can help someone in need.”
Popular digital and television talent, with a total audience exceeding 70 million people, are starring in an additional campaign video, as well as supporting the campaign on their social platforms. The video, featuring Hannah Hart, Liza Koshy, Markiplier, Meredith Foster, Orion Carloto, Remi Cruz, Shannon Beveridge, Tyler Oakley, and Tyler Posey, shows each celebrity initially looking at the camera in awkward silence, before using that space to open up a conversation about mental health. Additional videos include more in-depth personal stories from many of the celebrities. Talent content was produced by Northbound Film.
“We are excited about the campaign’s potential to dramatically change how young adults, and generations to come, understand mental health, and what to do when a friend may be struggling. And we know from research that suicide is preventable and that it starts with the person opening up and getting someone the help they need,” said Bob Gebbia, AFSP chief executive. “Partnering with the Ad Council, JED and Droga5, we have created a campaign that’s the first of its kind and will save lives.”
Dozens of artists, including Baron Von Fancy, Jeremyville, Saša Ostoja, Iain Burke, and Franz Lang have interpreted the phrase “seize the awkward” about their personal experiences with mental health. These artworks have turned into posters that will be shared across college campuses and on social media. They will also be used as wild postings and in a Seize the Awkward exhibition.
"Too many young adults are struggling with mental health issues and not getting the help they need,” said John MacPhee, executive director/chief executive, JED. “Seize the Awkward will help empower young people to start important and potentially life-saving conversations and take action to support one another. This generation is poised to lead us in changing the culture around mental health and Seize the Awkward aims to help them do just that.”
The campaign urges people to use the #SeizeTheAwkward hashtag or to get free support 24/7, by calling 1-800-273-8255 or texting “SEIZE” to 741741.
To see the videos, please click the Creative Works box below.