How a Mental Health Charity Balances Irreverence and Humor on Apparel with a Heartfelt Mission
A creative agency called The Variable is partnering with the Mental Health Association of Forsyth County in Winston-Salem, N.C., to connect with young people through branded apparel that toes the line between irreverent and compassionate.
It's called FreeTherapy, and it uses T-shirts and tote bags with catchy messages and slogans to appeal to Gen Z's openness about mental health, and hopefully push conversations with those who don't feel ready to speak about their own issues quite yet.
According to Little Black Book, proceeds from the products will benefit the Mental Health Association of Forsyth County's free therapy program, and coincides with Mental Health Awareness Month.
The goal is to use this as a conversation starter to bridge the gap between a generation born with the internet and traditional therapy. Plenty of Gen Z kids have reported that they deal with depression or anxiety, but might turn to social media platforms like TikTok or Reddit rather than going to therapy.
"Feeling better doesn’t have to be exclusive to the couch of a counselor or a therapy app (no hate, but those aren’t cheap)," the Free Therapy site says. "So join us in freeing therapy from the exclusive confines of the stuffy few. Let’s wear our hearts and minds on our sleeves, chests, backs, heads and the occasional sticker to spread some therapeutic vibes in the dopest, comfiest and most cathartic ways we know how. And while our stuff might cost a little, the feelings they awaken in you and others are 100% free. That’s FreeTherapy.
The apparel is a balancing act, but it accomplishes the goal of disarming young people to talk about their mental health, but without making it the butt of a joke. It's fun in a tongue-in-cheek way, but not disrespectful to those who want to pursue therapy.
Apparel features messages like "Maybe tomorrow. But still probably not," or "All-Seasonal Depression." It touches on social media verbiage for in-patient treatment as "Grippy Socks Resort." And there's a tote bag that says "Ask me about my baggage."
The real trick here is that it directly benefits a mental health organization that seeks to provide services to those who need it. It's not just out here to poke fun at something or get clicks. That's the difference between something that could be viewed as in poor taste and something that uses humor for good.
"Gen Z has a unique relationship with their mental health struggles," The Variable chief creative officer Joe Parrish said, according to LBB. "Rather than hide from them, they own them in bold ways. We want to be open about their issue so they can move on from them. The opportunity is to create a brand that meets them where they already are. One that allows this generation to be more honest and open than the generations before them. It's honestly a much healthier way to approach mental health."
Brendan Menapace is the senior digital editor for Promo Marketing. While writing and editing stories come naturally to him, writing his own bio does not.