Growing Giving Series

Destigmatizing Mental Health and Addiction

TransformNation campaign emphasizes action to advance a movement

By Joanna Valente

Helio Health’s “TransformNation” campaign, developed by Mower, is designed to help people struggling with mental health and addiction. Courtesy of Helio Health

Throughout the pandemic, people have found ways to connect with and support each other during an especially turbulent time. But the limited social interactions, fear of infection, economic strife, and rising death toll have resulted in a second crisis: an increase in mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, and substance abuse.

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between August 2020 and February 2021, the percentage of adults with symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder increased from 36.4 percent to 41.5 percent. A separate survey from the New York University School of Global Public Health of 5,850 people who drink alcohol found that 29 percent increased their drinking during the pandemic and those experiencing depression were 64 percent more likely to increase drinking.

Struggling with mental health and addiction can be incredibly isolating and debilitating, both for those suffering and their family and friends. That’s why the New York-based nonprofit Helio Health, long dedicated to transforming the lives of those suffering with substance abuse and mental health disorders, launched “TransformNation” in July 2020. The action-oriented campaign focused on changing people’s mindset from one of helplessness to hope. Acknowledging that everyone deserves support and a safe pathway to recovery, the campaign powerfully promoted the message of community and connection, inspiring people to take action and spread hope.

The campaign’s landing page itself inspires joy and hope with its bright color scheme and immediate call to action: “Addiction and mental illness can affect anyone. Recovery takes everyone. Start a transformation.”



Helio Health partnered with the New York-based agency Mower to create the integrated media campaign, which included social, programmatic display, and out-of-home. All touchpoints led users to the landing page on Helio Health’s website, where visitors were prompted to join the TransformNation movement and play a role in combating addiction and substance abuse.

While addiction affects individuals, families, and communities, many people don’t know how to help. Finding allies to play an active role is crucial for enabling positive change and healing for all. To that end, the campaign offered five ways for someone to get involved as an ally: pledging to make a difference and be a voice for recovery, donating, volunteering, training to become a therapist, or pursuing a career at Helio Health.

Kevin Tripodi, SVP and creative director at Mower, says the timing of the campaign, launched during the pandemic, played a large role in the marketing effort. “It was a strange pivot point because we had seen the instances of substance use and death by overdose decrease for the first time in a decade until the pandemic hit,” he notes. “Helio knew it would cause people to backtrack. People were isolated, afraid, and anxious.”

To help improve the lives of those struggling with addiction and mental health disorders, the nonprofit Helio Health, in partnership with the agency Mower, created the “TransformNation” campaign. It aims to change people’s mindset from one of helplessness to hope, drive action, and promote the message of community and connection. Helio Health/YouTube

The still-active campaign landing page reflects Helio Health’s strategic rebrand to be hopeful and positive. The bright color scheme, playing off helio, the Greek word for sun, was purposeful as the team “wanted hope to come through and be the end of the process,” Tripodi says. “It could take someone nine times before they get to that point. And that’s OK. A lot of Helio’s employees may have been former patients and in treatment themselves; they came out of it and realized they also can help. In this way, everyone turns into the solution.”



Marketing a crisis during a pandemic in an authentic way without adding more stress to people’s lives can feel especially overwhelming, Tripodi says. “We already had a huge pandemic [with substance abuse]. The COVID-19 pandemic just exacerbated it. A lot of the training had to happen virtually instead,” he notes.

Ultimately, Helio Health and Mower were “heartened by the response and numbers,” Tripodi says. “Serving up ways to become involved and take a pledge is something anyone can do. The pledge creates a badge for social media, which gives visibility to the movement, allowing more and more people to get involved. People could see themselves in it. People even made videos of encouragement.”

In such a movement, Tripodi says, organizations must work together, not competitively. Rather than simply “own” an idea and compete with resources, they must “bring energy and heart,” he adds.



For Helio Health, presenting actionable steps for people to take as individuals and as a community was central to the campaign. “[It’s] a process to get better,” Tripodi says. “These aren’t choices people make. Helio’s philosophy derives from the idea that addiction is an illness. We can’t give up on people.”

Focusing on action and help is a way to dispel stigmas around substance abuse, mental health, and addiction, Tripodi says, adding that families coping with these issues often feel isolated, which the campaign sought to change. “A lot of families are dealing with these situations alone. We had the opportunity to show how many people are dealing with this,” he says. “A lot of people in our personal networks deal with feeling alone and feel helpless. Making it personal can be a great way to talk about transformation and to help people transform their lives.

“This presented a bigger opportunity to empower people to help and create a community, whether by donating, training to become a volunteer or therapist, or taking the virtual pledge. This can affect anyone, and recovery takes everyone,” Tripodi adds.

The campaign messaging also made clear that addiction is “like any other disease,” Tripodi says, so conveying compassion was key to advancing the movement. “With other diseases, people don’t cut you off. That’s how this should be too,” he adds. “Helio brings the emotional and medical side together. Hope meets healing.”


Key Results

The campaign exceeded its benchmarks, earning more than 9.6 million impressions, 48,517 clicks to the landing page, 17,428 new users, 20,322 page sessions, and 483,060 video views to completion.

“The pandemic made us pivot to be more online and socially active,” Tripodi says. “We wanted people to understand the problem and how they could be part of that solution. The landing page is a great place to get that information. It’s a bit more agnostic than the Helio site itself. The campaign page makes it more inclusive and community-oriented. The platform [is designed to] keep it open, let it grow, and become an aggregation of community-minded people.

“We wanted to create the feeling of a movement,” he adds. “People are looking for a purpose, and for a way to take away that helplessness. The solution starts with each one of us. It’s about us all taking responsibility and having the need met.”


Lessons Learned

The actionable nature of the campaign empowered people and brought them closer together. Creating such positive change helps connect people to brands and organizations. Marketers need to “know what the problem is, the opportunities ahead, and what you can do,” Tripodi says. “Get people to raise their hand, at any level. We give a lot of ways to get involved, and a number of ways to feel empowered. Give people a clear path.

“The other [important] thing is to make it local. Make it personal,” he adds. “People are going to say, ‘How does this affect me?’ We’re all affected by [issues with mental health and addiction], so making it localized is important.”



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