Mental Health Campaign Launched for African American Community

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), working with the Ad Council and the Stay Strong Foundation, has launched a national public service advertising campaign to raise awareness of mental health problems among young adults in the African American community.
The new PSAs were unveiled at a Black History Month event at Howard University to coincide with the first annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) National Mental Health Awareness Day. The launch was telecast to colleges and universities nationwide.

Mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, are widespread in the U.S. and often misunderstood. According to SAMHSA, in 2008 an estimated 9.8 million adults age 18 or older were living with serious mental illness. Among adults, the prevalence of serious mental illness is highest in the 18 to 25 age group, yet this age group is also the least likely to receive services or counseling. In 2008, 6 percent of African Americans ages 18 to 25 had serious mental illness in the past year.

Overall, only 59 percent of people in the U.S. with serious mental illness received care within the past 12 months. The percentage of African Americans receiving services is only 49 percent.

"Raising understanding and attention to these issues within the African American community will provide greater opportunities for those needing help to receive effective mental health services," said Kathryn A. Power, Director of SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services.

Created pro bono by Grey Worldwide through the Ad Council, the campaign promotes acceptance of mental health problems within the African American community by encouraging, educating and inspiring young adults to step up and talk openly about mental health problems. The ads feature personal stories of African Americans dealing with mental health problems, and they aim to engage people in the community to support young adults who need help.

The PSAs direct audiences to visit a new Web site,, where they can learn more about mental health problems and how to get involved.

"According to our research and the leading mental health experts, young adults with mental health problems are more likely to seek help if social acceptance is broadened and they receive support and services early on," said Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of the Ad Council. "We are proud to continue our partnership with SAMHSA to address these issues in the African American community and help create the necessary societal change that will decrease the negative attitudes that surround mental illness and ultimately inspire those who want help to get it."

"It is the work of the Stay Strong Foundation and my personal mission to educate everyone, and in particular the African American community, about depression and its impact on our communities," said Terrie M. Williams, M.S.W., cofounder of The Stay Strong Foundation. "Every day so many of us wear the 'mask' of wellness that hides our pain from the world. Now is the time to identify and name our pain--minus the myths and the stigmas--and seek the help so many of us need."

The Stay Strong Foundation works to support, educate and inspire African American youth through a series of programs and events that are designed to raise awareness of teen issues, promote the personal well-being of young people and enhance their educational and professional development.

"In general, mental health problems are difficult to talk about," said Rob Baiocco, EVP and managing partner of Grey New York. "But the second someone opens up and tells their specific personal story, you instantly realize what they are dealing with. It's such an immediate, intuitive and emotional understanding. And from that understanding comes the healing."

HBCU's Center for Excellence in Substance Abuse and Mental Health at Morehouse School of Medicine, a grant funded through SAMHSA, created National HBCU Mental Health Awareness Day. The HBCU Mental Health Awareness Day is the first national effort to promote behavioral health on historically black colleges and universities. The all-day event aims to increase public knowledge and student awareness about mental health issues and to foster a more supportive and informed environment on HBCU campuses and in the community. For more information, visit

SAMHSA Press Office

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 16, 2010