Every 1 needs to talk 2 some 1
Kenneth Cole, Designer and co-founder of the Mental Health Coalition
Designer Kenneth Cole launched the Mental Health Coalition in the United States to bring together respected mental health service providers, leading academics and influential creative and media organizations.
The group is dedicated to ending the stigma attached to mental health conditions and created a digital storytelling platform, ‘How are you, really?’ to provide a safe social space for individuals to share their stories.
Here, he explains how technology can help to normalize attitudes to mental health.
What is the role of fashion and its impact on mental health?
Fashion is not just what you stand in, but what you stand for. It’s not just about what you wear, but what you are aware of. I like to think that it’s more about how it makes you feel. Fashion is an art, a positive form of self-expression and something to be celebrated.
How has ‘How are you, really?’ and the MH Coalition helped to change the dialogue?
During these challenging and uncertain times, it is important that we come together around the common goal of changing the mental health narrative in a way that will empower rather than diminish those individuals living with mental health conditions. The “How Are You, Really?” challenge launched at a celebrity level to aid in normalizing talking about mental health. Once people saw that others were comfortable discussing their mental health, it inspired them to do the same and begin sharing their stories. It became a domino effect and created a safe space for individuals to be vulnerable and unapologetically themselves.
What have we learned in the pandemic about mental health that will change us and our actions long term?
The pandemic has taught us that human connection – however possible – is so important. Take advantage of time with family and friends. Social connectivity is such a powerful concept, but so often taken for granted. There’s a sadness, a depression that comes from being “cutoff” from the world, like we were during quarantine, and that impacts your mental health. In-person, human connection is something that I think moving forward the general public will be much more conscious of and place a higher value on.
“Technology is enabling us to access help, especially during Covid-19, it is a necessary part of changing the narrative.”
What effect has the pandemic had on you personally?
The pandemic has made me even more aware of the stigma around mental health and the need to change the conversation. It impacts so many people, including people who I love and care for very much. The isolation caused by the pandemic has caused pain to so many and the Coalition is working tirelessly to end the stigma, so that we can normalize asking for help. To continue the effort into May, which is also Mental Health Awareness Month, the Coalition will be hosting a ‘121' Instagram TV Series campaign: "Every Day in May”; with 31 segments, featuring celebrities, influencers, etc. The premise of the series is that “Every 1 needs to talk 2 some 1.”
Participants, who are struggling with their mental health, first make a connection with their “1,” someone who they trust: a close friend, family member, etc. Later on, a mental health professional joins the conversation, and viewers, in real time, are able to submit questions.
How important is the role of mental wellbeing in the world’s biggest cities and how can it be supported?
The role of mental health is important in cities of all sizes. In larger cities, mental health can be supported in a number of ways, all revolving around getting rid of the stigma and changing the narrative. Ask your friends and family “How Are You, Really?” -- have a conversation, listen and make them feel heard. Don’t be afraid of seeking out help; life is full of challenges and the pandemic has added a lot of pressure. Our goal at MHC is to change the narrative and empower individuals struggling with mental health. Through offering resources and support we are making that happen.
Does technology also have a role in making us more separate and isolated?
Technology can make us feel that way, but we are working to make it do the opposite. Through our ongoing partnerships with Facebook and Instagram, we can build connections, rather than create isolation. We are able to offer resources like the Emotional Health resource center, that lives on Facebook, and features all of the Coalition’s partners and provides access to their resources. The connection that technology is enabling to access help, especially during Covid-19, is a necessary part of changing the narrative.
As someone who thinks a lot about social change a lot, are you optimistic about the role of social movements?
I’m definitely optimistic about social movements and what they can do for the world. The social movement we are a part of right now around mental health is about changing the conversation and getting rid of the stigma. It is and always has been very close to my heart.
Kenneth Cole is co-founder of the Mental Health Coalition