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St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s
Multi-Media Messaging Campaign

Billboard art created by the St. Regis Mohawk MSPI team

Over the last two and a half years, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has utilized MSPI funding to develop and launch a successful multimedia campaign designed to encourage people to seek help for emotional problems and to discourage drug abuse. The project plan included installation of strategically placed billboards within the community, the airing of public service announcements, and the promotion of the community’s online screening tool.

Community Readiness

In speaking with community members to gauge the readiness, willingness, and overall acceptance of mental health care and addiction services, the St. Regis MSPI team found that community members often expressed empathy for family, friends or acquaintances that they felt “needed help,” but when asked about themselves, were likely to state that they felt things were fine and they were “strong enough” to handle their own concerns. The St. Regis MSPI team heard time and again a message that essentially said –“It’s okay for others to go get help, but I don’t need any.”

The MSPI team set out to develop a media campaign that would present a different view-- a message that affirmed self-care. The core of the team’s message was simple, yet profound: seeking help is a sign of strength, not a showing of weakness.

The MSPI Program’s Goals

The St. Regis MSPI media campaign aims to combat the stigma attached to seeking behavioral health care. Through positive messaging about help-seeking behaviors, the St. Regis MSPI team believes that the public will be encouraged to seek help for themselves and carry that positive message to friends and family. The proposed funding for this project involved the installation of strategically placed billboards within the community and the airing of public service announcements that are meant to encourage people to seek help for emotional problems and discourage drug abuse. By encouraging help-seeking behavior for behavioral/emotional problems there is also hope for decreasing suicide, which is the other goal of the grant. In addition to the media campaign, the St. Regis MSPI team promotes the use of an online screening tool to help the public take confidential mental health screenings at their convenience. If the screen is positive, the individual is given program contact information and details on how to seek help.

The Multi-Media Campaign Plan

The St. Regis Mohawk MSPI program plan included the design and development of billboards, public service announcements (PSA), newspaper advertising, as well as professional and community activities to promote the campaign. The St. Regis MSPI team put together a plan to run four consecutive billboards for six months each, two promoting mental health care (depression and suicide), and two promoting substance abuse prevention. The team also planned to run several public service announcements on the local radio station to increase awareness of suicide and recognition of the symptoms of depression, with one PSA specifically targeting youth. In addition to positive messaging on the issues, the team also created a PSA promoting use of the online screening tool.

Although the media campaign targets the entire community of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, the MSPI team designed each component to appeal to different segments of the community. For instance, to create a message that would resonate with youth, the team used sports imaging and references. To reach women and parents, the team chose to use images of a mother and child.

Lessons Learned and Challenges Faced

The St. Regis MSPI team quickly learned that their billboards could have a tremendous impact! The team found that the messages conveyed by the billboards not only reached the St. Regis community, but also touched members of neighboring communities and people passing through the area. To address this demographic, the MSPI team made sure to keep the surrounding counties’ mental health information on hand for individuals who might be ineligible for the Tribe’s program, but were in need of services.

The team also learned that different people have different interpretations of the art used for the billboards. Although all of the designs went through an internal approval process, and, ultimately, the positive feedback outweighed any criticism, the team concluded that future media campaigns would benefit from incorporating focus groups.

Success of the Program

The MSPI team aimed to increase awareness of depression, suicide, and substance abuse; to reduce stigma around seeking help; and to deliver positive messages about protective factors. In all of these areas, the campaign has been making impressive, steady progress. Feedback indicates that people are noticing the billboards, hearing the PSAs, using the call-in numbers, and making better use of the online screening tool.

To illustrate the reach of the program and community support for it, the St. Regis team cites The Walk for Life, Hope, and Recovery – a suicide/addiction awareness walk that was the kickoff event for the 2011 Red Ribbon Week. Despite cold and rainy October weather, eighty community members came out to walk in solidarity and support for fellow community members struggling with addiction and/or mental health concerns. The walk highlighted the message at the heart of the media campaign: Depression and substance abuse exist, but help is available!