Zombie Problems? New Mental Health Campaign Targets Young Men

A new campaign aims to humorously engage young men in practical ways to overcome everyday stressors, with a little help from zombies.

The statistics on young men's mental health are shocking. Around 40% of young men aged 15 to 17 have some level of emotional distress; one in five feel that life is not worth living; and young men in this age group are more than four times more likely to take their own lives.

The 'Something Haunting You?' campaign encourages young men aged 15 to 17 to take action and overcome the problem 'zombies' following them, such as exam stress, peer pressure, and body image doubts. It was designed in partnership with young men, who highlighted the importance of using humour and interesting abstract concepts to encourage them to tackle these very real problems.

An illustration of a zombie over a black background with the words 'something haunting you?' and www.somethinghauntingyou.com

Due to a number of pressures – including stigma, denial, and gender stereotypes – young men are often reluctant to seek help. Encouraging behaviours such as exercise, help-seeking, and setting challenges, can enable this group to learn valuable skills early on to lessen the risk of developing a mental illness and the need for more involved treatment down the track.

The campaign is an innovative and targeted way to speak to a specific, notoriously hard-to-reach group says Associate Professor Jane Burns, CEO of the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre which is funding the project. 'Our research has shown us the extent of the emotional distress of our young men, and that despite significant work in stigma reduction, we are still not seeing an increase in help-seeking. Our research and development looks at innovative ways to engage with young people, putting them at the centre of designing campaign concepts that resonate with that audience,' she says.

Young and Well CRC Youth Brains Trust member Aiden Barry, 18, was a co-collaborator of the campaign and feels that it fills a gap for young men his age: 'This campaign is great, and really important. When young men are stressed they usually hide it and say that everything is ok, so something targeted to them has been needed for a long time. The website has been designed by other young people, so it is relevant to what young boys go through and gives good, practical advice.'

With adolescence and young adulthood a high-risk period for onset of mental illness, it is important to develop ways to connect with young people at this time. 'Campaigns like 'Something Haunting You' are important for reaching young men at a critical time in their lives and encouraging behaviour that will increase their mental wellbeing so they can work more productively and creatively and build positive and respectful relationships with others. This campaign uses humour in a way that will really resonate with young men and help them manage stress before it turns into a monster,' explains CEO of VicHealth, Jerril Rechter.

'Something Haunting You?' is the third in a series of campaigns in the Safe and Well Online project – a collaboration between the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, University of South Australia (opens in a new window), University of Western Sydney, Queensland University of Technology (opens in a new window) and creative agency Zuni (opens in a new window). It builds on the success of Appreciate A Mate – which promoted positivity online, and the 2012 campaign, Keep it Tame – promoting respect online. Dr Philippa Collin and Dr Teresa Swist are the ICS researchers involved in this project.

The five-year study will give insight into how young people perceive key issues related to their safety and wellbeing, how they interact with digital campaigns and how effective they are in influencing or changing attitudes and behaviour.

Posted: 7 July 2015.