In recognition of the role storytelling can play in addressing the nation’s mental health crisis, a coalition of experts and entertainment giants are taking steps to raise awareness and change the narrative around mental health.

MTV Entertainment Group, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California and numerous media companies have come together to form the Mental Health Storytelling Coalition. Industry participants include Amazon Studios, Anonymous Content, AwesomenessTV, BET, CAA Foundation, CBS, CMT, Comedy Central, Endeavor Content, MTV, NBCUniversal, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, SHOWTIME, Spotify, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Starz, Walt Disney Company, UTA Foundation and VH1.

“Media has enormous influence over how we collectively perceive and understand the most difficult issues in our society,” said ViacomCBS president-CEO Bob Bakish. “The mental health crisis impacts people of all demographics and geographies, and as content creators, it’s our responsibility to use our assets – through our stories, platforms and reach – to take action. Our ability to come together as an industry to meaningfully shift the narrative around mental health can transform the lives of people everywhere.”

Over the past two decades, national suicide rates have substantially increased particularly with a spike among young people. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded these issues. Depression, anxiety and mental health challenges have been on the rise, reinforcing a needed change in conversation about mental wellness and suicide prevention.

“It is absolutely critical to give storytellers the tools they need to ensure that portrayals of mental health are inclusive, authentic, and safe, and that production teams work in an environment where mental health is valued,” said Dr. Stacy L. Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

The expert council for the initiative features a raft of organizations active in mental health issues, including Active Minds, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Born This Way Foundation, Entertainment Industries Council, National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Council for Behavioral Health and the Trevor Project.

“With the Mental Health Media Guide, the coalition of experts, and the Mental Health Storytelling Summit, creative professionals will have access to information in a new capacity to positively influence the media landscape,” Smith said.

The collaboration kicks off at the Mental Health Storytelling Summit during the first week of May, which will include case studies, conversations and workshops. There are also plans to release a comprehensive mental health media guide to provide best practices and evidence-based recommendations to support storytellers at any phase in the production process.

“Sharing stories about mental health or substance use challenges is an important step toward improving the public’s understanding and reducing the stigma real people with these conditions face every day,” said Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health.