CAMH gives mental health support from a distance

The hospital gets the word out about how it can still help those facing new hurdles brought on by the pandemic.


At a time when people are isolating themselves from one another to combat COVID-19, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is saying that this could trigger a second pandemic – a global mental health crisis.

“We’re not, by nature, creatures who thrive in isolation over extended periods of time. Even those who don’t have experience with mental illness  are really struggling right now,” says Sarah Chamberlin, VP of marketing and donor experience at the CAMH Foundation, the hospital’s charitable fundraising arm.

The goal of the foundation’s latest campaign, entitled “Apart. Not Alone,” is to get the word out about tools and resources it has to prevent, manage and cope with mental health challenges, specifically ones that might arise due to the impacts of this pandemic. Campaign banners and posters reinforce this message, with text over photos of CAMH’s empty Toronto campus saying, “Just because we can’t be together, doesn’t mean we have to go through this alone,” and “Isolated. Afraid. Uncertain. But Not Alone.”

“We feel it’s a public service,” Chamberlin says. “What we’re seeing so far, in terms of interest, is proving that out.”

According to the American Psychological Association, strong social relationships reduce the risk of early death by 50%, regardless of age, sex or health status. A 2010 meta-analysis of 148 studies on mortality risk by Brigham Young University found that “social disconnection” is at least as harmful to people as “obesity, physical inactivity and smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”

During a time when many marketing campaigns are re-iterating “stay at home” messages or informing consumers about how to access products when stores are closed, the CAMH Foundation saw an opportunity to add its voice to the conversation around COVID-19 and address a growing need.

“[The CAMH Foundation's] role is to encourage people to understand the importance of our cause and the work we do at the hospital, and then to encourage them also to help us,” Chamberlin says. “We had a really thoughtful conversation about what is our opportunity, balanced out with what we believe is the sort of public service obligation imperative right now.”

The campaign drives to the CAMH website, which includes tips, coping strategies and resources such as a self-assessment survey to gauge one’s stress levels (which has received more than 100,000 downloads in one week); how to address a child’s potential anxiety and sadness; psychotherapy and psychiatric support for healthcare workers; and support for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

But like most forms of healthcare service, discussing and addressing mental health is arguably best done in-person, and offering online resources doesn’t ideally address issues of isolation.

“Face-to-face interaction is very important, especially to a subset of our population that absolutely requires that, or is at a certain state of their treatment,” Chamberlin says. “What we feel is that the resources that we are able to provide, on mass, are not a substitute, but they are still helpful. There is always, [for] portions of the population for whom, this sort of thing will be what they’re looking for.”

Toronto agency Camp Jefferson led the creative on the campaign, with media by Jungle, utilizing donated space. The creative will run until the end of May, with a focus on the province of Ontario, on TV, social media and online banners.