Case Studies: Let’s Talk Colorado

Changing the Narrative for Mental Health

Let’s Talk Colorado is on the leading edge of communication science and evidence-based messaging that challenges mental health stigma (in both English and Spanish) in Colorado. It is more of a movement than just “catchy lines” for changing the way we talk and think about mental health.

Mental health affects us all, but most of us don’t talk about it. Let’s Talk Colorado is a media campaign, encouraging adults to talk to about their mental health and others to listen, thereby reducing the stigma. Research indicates we are aware of the stigma and know it’s not good. But we continue to stigmatize with in our words and actions.

Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) the local public health agency serving Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas Counties in Colorado, and the lead local public health agency for the Metro Public Health Behavioral Health Collaborative convened more than 25 partners creating the Message Action Team. This team represented hospital systems, community mental health, safety net clinics, community organizations, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), and county governments all acknowledged the need to impact stigma.

Creation and development:

Creating the campaign started with market research by reviewing the success of existing campaigns around mental health awareness. Let’s Talk Colorado ended up being an extension of the Minnesota Make It Ok stigma reduction campaign which focuses on beginning the conversation around mental health. The Make It OK campaign was endorsed by mental and behavioral health experts. They graciously gave TCHD full permission to use their content. An extra benefit was the opportunity to focus group test Make It OK messaging with a Colorado adult audience. A “common message” was finalized by the Message Action Team and Let’s Talk Colorado/HablemosCO was born. The Spanish site was trans-created from Let’s Talk Colorado and tested with Spanish-Speaker focus groups. ( / )

In year two, a grant award from the Colorado Health Foundation to TCHD supported the engagement of a nationally-renowned social research and communications firm, FrameWorks Institute, to study perceptions around mental health in Colorado adults.

“The most important implication of this research is that mental health advocates need to start going beyond communicating the idea that stigma is wrong or undesirable,” said Moira O’Neil, director of Research Interpretation and Application at FrameWorks. “Communicators also need to emphasize that improving the mental health system of care is not important just for people who experience mental health issues but also the people who are close to them. People need to be consistently reminded of the benefits good mental health can have for the entire community.”

Researchers also found that while participants agree it is wrong to stigmatize people with mental health issues, they nevertheless engaged in patterns of talk that “othered” people, such as defining people with mental health challenges as “abnormal” and blaming individuals for their own mental health issues.

The Institute’s findings guided the second phase of the Let’s Talk Colorado campaign. This focuses on the advantages of positive mental health, such as a stronger economy, and the role all Coloradans play in supporting one another’s mental health. The “already tested messages” were “reframed” in alignment with the research as a way to break through long-held misconceptions about mental health.

The results:

Let’s Talk About our Mental Health: What is Mental Health?

Mental health is the health of our mind--the combination of our thoughts, emotions and behaviors.

It affects how we think, how we feel and how we live our lives.

Mental health is a part of life.

Just as the world around us affects our mental health, our mental health affects how we react to the world around us.

Mental Health Isn’t Just in our Head

Mental health is something we experience through our feelings, our bodies and our minds.

Mental health is something we all experience every day.

Sometimes, we feel happy and in control of our lives, and sometimes we feel anxious, sad, or angry--even if we don’t know why.

The important thing is to talk to someone and get help if we need it.

Mental Health is a Big Part of our Health and Well-Being

When our mind, feelings, and thoughts are healthy--so are we.

Our brain is as important to our health as our heart, lungs or bones. How our mind experiences life has a direct impact on our well-being.

When our feelings and thoughts are positive--we feel happy and in control. But when our feelings and thoughts aren’t so great--neither are we.

That’s why it’s so important to talk about our mental health!

Year three brought another opportunity to build on this messaging. Citing a gender gap in outcomes and a call to action from Colorado’s State Innovation Model (SIM), the Message Action Team took on the challenge to address the unique challenges men face with mental health. The tested and framed messages were taken to men-only focus groups. In this process, it was determined that different messages were indicated with the following results:

For men or women who care

It’s courageous for a man to admit when he’s struggling, anxious, or overwhelmed. If he’s brave enough to talk to you, listen to him. Just listen.

For men, about men

You don’t have to have a heart-to-heart with a man you know to stand shoulder-to-shoulder.

When he seems irritable or angry or just not himself, spend some time with him.

Let him know he matters.

Directly to men

It takes strength to tell someone you’re unhappy, stressed, or scared. It could be the first step to feeling better.

Take a deep breath and talk to someone.

Work stress, money problems, or family worries can get anyone down. When you’re struggling or feel overwhelmed, don’t go it alone.

Talk to someone.

Individuals who want to support a man they know who seems like he’s depressed, grieving, stressed or just not himself are encouraged to try the following steps:

  • Spend time with him doing a favorite activity.
  • Check in regularly and ask how he’s doing. Don’t accept dismissive statements like “I’m fine” for an answer.
  • Listen, patiently and actively, when he does tell you how he’s feeling. Don’t try to “fix” the problem or change the subject. Many men report feeling that they weren’t listened to or believed when they have tried to talk to someone about their mental health.


The Let’s Talk Colorado campaign included local public health and other organizations in the seven-county metro Denver region and outreach to other local public health agencies in the state that have identified mental/behavioral health or substance abuse as priority work.

Dissemination plans were developed to deliver the Let’s Talk Colorado/HablemosCO messages through existing communication channels, thereby increasing reach on a low budget. Messaging was provided for inclusion in current programming, newsletters, church bulletins, and social media whenever the opportunity arose.

Every time Let’s Talk Colorado/HablemosCO was presented in person a sign-up sheet was included. Participants were encouraged to include their email address if they were interested in being part of the effort. Through this effort, about 400 emails were received.

Outcomes / Impressions

Let’s Talk Colorado’s intent is to promote a “conversation.” It is a new frontier with each year’s messaging building upon the previous. The Message Action Team discovered that the implementation of recommendations from social science research was very challenging. The messaging must tackle the underlying understandings that continue to perpetuate the stigmatization of mental health issues within our culture. The budget did not allow for in-depth formative research; however, analytics gathered included - “impressions” or the potential “number of eyes” that saw some part of the campaign. The majority of the promotion efforts occurred during May of each year during Mental Health Month.


  • Year 1 - 45,617,882
  • Year 2 - 55,729,056*
  • Year 3 - 48,303,603

* Press Release re: Brain awareness month (16,434,314)