The Challenge

When people experience mental health challenges, or see a friend or family member struggling, they often want to make things better but don’t know how. Civilian was contracted by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA) to design a statewide social marketing campaign that can be adapted at the local level to help individuals understand their options, provide hope that life can get better, and make it easier to get the appropriate services and support they need. The ultimate goals of the campaign are to reduce mental health stigma, increase help-seeking behavior, prevent suicide, and increase access to mental health care for all Californians.

Our Approach

We began with an extensive review of the literature and lessons learned from previous mental health and suicide prevention campaigns, as well as focus groups with diverse audiences using AI-assisted and virtual formats. Research indicated that by normalizing talking about mental health needs and help-seeking, Californians feel more comfortable asking for the help they need or offering assistance to those they care about. The insights gained from this research led to a focus on the importance of recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health challenges and providing practical tools and guidance to empower people to take action. We found that although previous stigma reduction campaigns had made significant headway in bringing mental health into the collective conversation, much work still needed to be done to turn that knowledge into action.

The process of creating the campaign was just as important as the campaign itself. Civilian worked closely with CalMHSA to ensure that the voices of all Counties and stakeholders were heard. Civilian holds quarterly workgroup sessions with representatives of county behavioral health agencies to ensure that the needs of Californians across the state, and those working to serve them, are taken into account and continuously implemented.

Based on our research and input from subject-matter experts and stakeholders, we developed the Take Action for Mental Health campaign to help Californians support their mental health and the mental health of people they care about. The campaign focuses on three actions: (1) Check-In — on your own mental health and that of others; (2) Learn more — about the signs of mental illness, mental health self-care, and the different types of support options available; and (3) Get support — by finding resources available in your area, making a phone call or appointment, or, in some way, reaching out to get help for yourself or someone you care about.

The campaign reaches its priority audiences in a number of different ways. The website offers practical tools to help individuals assess their own mental health and learn how to initiate “check-in chats” with others, as well as direct people to the mental health support options most relevant to their immediate needs. Outreach includes hyper-targeted paid digital media, with advanced targeting and geotargeting to focus on high-impact zip codes and underserved communities, paid search, native display ads, and online video. Social media outreach on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook provides support and guidance. The campaign also succeeded in reaching audiences via statewide earned media, as well as an influencer campaign featuring Karamo Brown from Netflix’s Queer Eye discussing his mental health struggles and the tools and resources he now uses to thrive.

Much of the audience outreach occurs at the local level, through coordination with and support of each of CalMHSA’s behavioral health agency partners across the state. The project developed several innovative methods of facilitating this cooperation, which serve as a method of gathering research and input for the development and refinement of the campaign, as well as a key dissemination channel to reach the specific priority populations in each county. These include an online stakeholder forum, priority population-specific workgroups to capture the diverse needs of each county and its residents, and individual listening sessions with the point people in each county across the state.

Civilian developed a custom-built website in English and Spanish. Media and materials were developed in English and Spanish and include social media, earned media, thought leadership, seasonal micro-kits, toolkits (May is Mental Health Matters Month, Holiday Self Care, Rural Resources, Student Athletes). Paid media includes streaming audio, search, native and social display, programmatic, and influencers.

Materials are customized for the campaign’s priority audiences of Hispanic/Latinx, LGTBQIA2S+, transition-age youth, rural, and transadapted into Spanish and Vietnamese with additional threshold languages currently in development (Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese, Farsi, Hmong, Korean, Punjabi and Tagalog).

The Results

Outcome evaluation of the campaign is being conducted by RAND Corporation, with the primary method of a pre-and post-campaign quantitative survey to assess changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. As we are at the midpoint of a two-year campaign, the final evaluation has not been completed.

Between the campaign launch in December 2021 and November 2022, the campaign has already achieved the following results:

– The website garnered more than 233,000 unique page views and 126,000 new users and continues to grow.

– More than 488,000 materials and green ribbons were sent out to 46 counties for May is Mental Health Matters Month.

– Earned media resulted in 32 articles, with coverage in 16 California counties, for the equivalent of more than $1.6 million in media coverage.

– The influencer campaign with Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown resulted in more than one million impressions, including social and two broadcast television appearances.

– Paid media efforts (social, paid and organic media) generated more than 11 million impressions, 69,000 clicks, and 40,000 website sessions. The click-through rate for each was consistently above industry benchmarks.


  • Social
  • Branding
  • Media
  • Out-of-Home
  • Broadcast
  • Digital
  • Events
Our Work