Advertising Gets It Right: World Health Organization (WHO) on Depression.

At most times, the world of advertising seems to inhabit a different universe. I suspect all of us have private thoughts about the industry. Woe to those who lead others astray. 

I am thinking here of very recent advertisements which apparently missed the mark. They had to be canned, that is, pulled off the air. But it did not stop such loud questions as – “how do you spend millions of dollars, using (a) big name(s), and the advert falls flat on its face?” Did they not have researchers, any readers or followers of market trends and public expectations? Market analysts? I am sure you can tell one of the advertisements I am referring to here is the one by Pepsi.

I liked the World Health Organization (WHO) advertisement on depression. It was obviously not selling anything. But it raised a subject I identify with. I know the insidious way it eats away at the very fabric of one’s being. It leaves one weak. With unending feelings of nausea. Interests, hobbies, pastimes disappear. Effortlessly. If one does not make that extra effort, even friends can become a burden. Ultimately, depression seems to take one into a version of “never land!” 

The WHO advertisement was a clincher. It used two (the perfectionists will say THREE) words that went a long way towards overcoming weaknesses of previous campaigns (not necessarily by WHO). We have lots of international organizations, the United Nations agencies and local bodies trying to offer assistance in various situations of need. I try to ask myself questions about the campaigns which I see. Do they know what they are talking about? Are they aware of their target audiences? Do they come up with appropriate messages for the interventions occupying them?

Besides every other word in the WHO advertisement, no one can take away the power and poise of the phrase Let’s Talk. Even if we were to humour the perfectionists, it would still be a brief and manageable Let Us Talk.

Let’s talk suggests a familiarity between the speakers. And that is how it should be. There’s intimacy, certainly, closeness. There is the stress on trust. The little phrase succeeds in saying isolation is not sanctuary. It was useful to get snippets of Prince Harry’s interview during which he juxtaposed TWENTY years of trying to overlook the effects of his mother ‘s death and the TWO years in which he finally decided to confront the issue.

In our rather busy world today, I wonder how many grief-stricken  people, retrenched and bullied people, perhaps persecuted even, walk around with depression as an accepted status of life. I was lucky in that in my most challenging phase, I was doing physiotherapy sessions. As the sessions proceeded, I was encouraged to talk about whatever was on my mind. It was during such interactions that my physiotherapist eventually suggested that seeing a psychologist would probably be more beneficial. She was also the one who introduced me to C.S. Lewis‘s book, A Grief Observed.

Reading through the book, I found very eloquent examples of Lewis as a typical conflicted soul – on one hand, hungry to hear people talk and on the other, averse to talk which did not address his situation. I missed out on similar encounters. It was only last year, that I found a counsellor who spoke to me in a language I understood. She encouraged me to have a journal in which I could document my daily experiences. More importantly, she agreed that seeking God was also very necessary. I want to argue that from a general perspective, our well-intentioned attempts to help broken hearts fail because of the language and words  that we employ.

Let’s look at the following two quotations and see what we can salvage from them:

C.S. Lewis writes I find it hard to take in what anyone  says. Or  perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want others about me. I dread the moment when the house is empty” If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

It almost sounds dismissive of those who have come to condole with him. Yet for me, the greatest disappointment is that they cannot speak to him; they are speaking about his situation which he knows only fully well.

On his part, Jim Irving in a Prayer for Owen Meany observes that when someone you love dies, and you are not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time – the way her scent fades away from the pillow and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers.

Irving’s quotation clearly argues that recovery from loss takes time. It is a process, it is layered. It cannot and should not be hurried.

I find it instructive that some universities and other institutions of higher learning are now offering courses in grief and counseling. It is a capacity that our societies cry for. And as the WHO advertisement noted,  depression affects the bereaved, those who have lost jobs, victims of abuse and violence and those who are victims of bullies. Instead of colloquially and impersonally encouraging them to be strong, it’ll be fine, I think we need to start using more of Let’s Talk.

The little phrase Let’s Talk replaces the welter and clutter of well-meaning words we say, but which regrettably may not connect with the wounded soul.

As the author George Bernard Shaw warned, the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.