Why Wellness Together Canada is giving out custom shoes

The online platform is encouraging people to "take the step" and get mental health support in a time when it is needed most.

Shoe Designed by Jacquie Comrie_Wellness Together Canada

Wellness Together Canada has launched a new campaign to convince Canadians to take a “step” towards getting the mental health help they need.

As part of the new “#TakeThatStep” campaign, Wellness Together Canada linked up with Canadian multidisciplinary artist and mental health advocate Jacquie Comrie to design a pair of Vans shoes, which are being distributed to public figures across Canada (like CTV meteorologist Kelsey McEwen, who wore them on air) to encourage them share their own stories about mental health and inspire others.

Each bright and colourful shoe is hand painted to represent the deeply personal action of taking steps towards understanding your own mental health and getting help when needed.

Wellness Together Canada is a government of Canada-funded portal offering immediate online support for mental health and substance abuse challenges, launched in mid-April in response to the pandemic. It is supported by Kids Help Phone, a telephone and online mental health solution providing counselling and support for youth, and Homewood Health, a provider of mental health, addiction treatment and employee assistance programs.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies (which works with Kids Help Phone) assisted with strategy, media relations, content, paid amplification, measurement and influencer engagement, which included sending out the colourful limited-edition Vans footwear to influencers.

Original Artwork_MindfulHeads_Wellness Together Canada

Alexa Vogel, VP of health and wellness at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, tells strategy that the mental health portal wanted to continue to generate awareness post-launch with a DTC and influencer element.

The organization wanted to reach women that could connect other people to mental health resources, Vogel says, given many may have parents, spouses and children that may need support. “Art is extremely universal and the faces on the shoes transcend age, race and gender to speak to all people in Canada.”

The “step” messaging reflects how mental health journeys are different – for some, exercise can help, while others need therapists to simply get out of bed. “That Step,” Vogel says, is key to encouraging people to seek supports, as there is still a stigma surrounding mental health.

This is despite the fact that Canadians are facing increasing mental health challenges recently thanks to isolation, financial and employment uncertainty, and the emotional dialogue around racial equality. “Take that Step” links back to the provision of a “stepped care” model of mental health, in which people can be instantly connected to quick self-assessments and mental health services virtually, by phone or text, before moving on to more extensive support and resources, such as counselling with a mental health professional or crisis responder.

Vogel says the service is unique and a first-of-its kind platform, and that users can track their own progress. Ideally, Vogel adds, the program, set up through health grants in response to COVID-19, will become a permanently funded resource for Canadians.

“Take that Step” is being supported by earned media, search engine marketing and paid digital amplification. Vans offered the shoes at cost.