By On December 18th, 2007

Campaign to raise awareness about childhood mental illness too successful?

New York University’s Child Study Center recently commissioned a campaign to raise awareness about mental health issues among children that has sparked a public debate. The campaign, produced pro bono by BBDO, an Omnicom agency, features various ransom notes composed of newspaper clipping fonts, which have been displayed in Newsweek, New York Magazine and billboards around New York. Here’s an example of one of the ransom notes:

“We have your son. We will make sure he will no longer be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives.” – Autism

Kristina Chew, founder of a blog called Autism Vox and mother of a ten year old son that has autism, was one of many extremely offended by the ads. Mrs. Chew said, “the reaction has been mostly outrage from parents of special-needs children, autistic adults, teachers, disability rights advocates and mental health professionals.” Many feel that the ad is inappropriate because it features language that is so strong and projects these children as being criminalized. However, according to Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, director of the New York University Child Study Center, “Children’s mental disorders are truly the last great public health problem that has been left unaddressed… It’s like with AIDS. Everyone needs to be concerned and informed.” Additionally John Osborn, CEO of BBDO, stated, “It’s tricky because there are a lot of messages in the air particularly at holiday time. That makes it a challenge to cut through the clutter.”

The campaign features several other notes written from the personalities of Asperger’s, bulimia, depression, OCD, and ADHD.

The ad has certainly succeeded. It has sparked public debate and has made mental health issues among children more visible. I doubt, however, that Dr. Koplewicz, nor the folks over at BBDO, knew that the campaign would cause so much hullabaloo. The following is an excerpt of an article from the New York Times that discusses the issue:

Produced pro bono by BBDO, an Omnicom agency that worked on two previous campaigns for the Child Study Center, the campaign features scrawled and typed communiqués as well as simulations of classic ransom notes, composed of words clipped from a newspaper.

In addition to autism, there are ominous threats concerning depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and bulimia. The campaign’s overarching theme is that 12 million children “are held hostage by a psychiatric disorder.”

The public service announcements began running this week in New York magazine and Newsweek as well as on kiosks, billboards and construction sites around New York City.

“Children’s mental disorders are truly the last great public health problem that has been left unaddressed,” said Dr. Koplewicz, adding: “It’s like with AIDS. Everyone needs to be concerned and informed.”

In some quarters, however, the campaign has raised hackles as much as awareness. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, a national grass-roots organization of children and adults, is circulating a petition asking the Child Study Center to end the campaign.

Click here to read the article from the New York Times

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