A brand’s ‘community’ has never been more important — but can they exist to serve a larger, more meaningful purpose? According to brands like Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty and newcomer Selfmade, the answer is a resounding yes. These brands (in addition to many, many more — including giants like Maybelline and Biore) are investing heavily in mental health content and programming. It makes sense, on the heels of the isolation that many people — especially young Gen Zers forced to attend school on Zoom — have felt in the past year. 

It’s tempting to look at such efforts cynically or to wonder what might be behind a brand’s motivation to act as a mental health resource — let alone what might encourage someone to take them up on it. But, in a world where pertinent conversations around mental health remain stigmatized, any efforts to widen accessibility to support and open up tough conversations can be a good thing. Gen-Z culture is slowly shifting the narrative around mental health and helping to destigmatize talking about it. Case in point: posting oneself crying on TikTok is normal. Rare Beauty has the unique ability to access Gomez’s massive fan base (she has 225 million followers on Instagram) who consider her as a role model, to build a community. Larger brands’ initiatives serve more to provide access to the services of non-profit organizations. At worst, the audience ignores the offer. At best, the brands are able to meet customers where they are (on Instagram or TikTok) and direct them to resources that might actually be useful to them. 

“I 100% believe that any way you can get access to information, and deepen your understanding and awareness [about mental health], is important,” said Dr. Sam Boardman, clinical instructor in psychiatry and assistant attending psychiatrist at Weill-Cornell Medical College, and founder of Positive Prescription. She noted that any division between beauty (and fashion) and mental health thus far has been detrimental, in that we’ve separated beauty from well-being: “There’s been this wall that separates them in a way that wasn’t necessarily natural,” given the connection between how people look and how they feel about themselves. And given that things like symptoms of depression and anxiety are not something schools educate on, Boardman said beauty brands are, in fact, well-positioned to help fill the void — as long as the messaging doesn’t coincide with product pushing. 

At Rare Beauty, launched by Selena Gomez (who has been open about her own bipolar diagnosis) mental health has always been at the core of the brand’s principles. According to Katie Welch, Rare Beauty CMO, the brand does this via three main pillars: content, community and financial giveback via the Rare Impact Fund — the brand has committed to raise $100 million for mental health foundations over the next 10 years. Though, of course, providing mental health resources is not the “responsibility” of a beauty brand, Welch said. Instead, Rare thinks about how it can be a conduit to getting the right resources in the hands of people who need them — namely its Gen-Z and millennial audience. When the brand talks about mental health, it resonates with its audience. “What’s exciting,” Welch said, “is that those posts get just as high engagement as some of our makeup posts.”

Of course, mental health is a large topic. At the outset of quarantine, Rare turned its attention to how it could help combat loneliness. The resulting Rare Chats kicked off on Zoom soon after. “That’s something that a brand can do — not only connect with its community, but also connect the community to one another,” Welch said. “With Covid, there was no playbook. There was no strategy. It was like, ‘How can we bring together this community in lieu of bringing everyone together [in real life]?’” The chats have resonated with participants, bringing them together around a shared love of makeup, but other things, too. Topics of conversation have ranged from current Netflix binges to things that participants are grateful for. 

Though mental health is not just a Mental Health Awareness Month (May) issue for Rare Beauty, the brand kicked off a new campaign called Mental Health 101 this month. It is “basically a call to action to the philanthropic community to recognize the need for mental health in schools,” Welch said. The company set up both a Change.org petition and a GoFundMe, and promised to match $200,000 in donations. 

For newly launched skin- and body-care brand Selfmade, products offer a gateway for education on mental health and self-care. It’s a concept founder Stephanie Lee said she’d been working on prior to the pandemic. Lee, a former scheduler for Michelle Obama, creates products that are meant to prompt self-exploration — namely through a platform built by the brand called the Common Room, which customers gain free access to with the purchase of the brand’s Secure Attachment Serum, a $36 formula designed to hydrate and soothe skin. The program focuses on attachment and resilience, which Lee said are core to mental health and one’s ability to take care of themselves.

It’s really a curriculum. It’s not a meditation or talk therapy app. It’s 21 days, which is the minimum amount of days required to create a habit. It’s really about: How do you empower a person to do this work with themselves, and potentially with their girlfriends or friends?” It’s modeled after forms of therapy such as CBT and DBT [cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy, respectively], and has features like journal prompts and yoga practices that encourage “being in your body and with yourself,” Lee said. The program asks questions about how your skin is feeling, tracks sleep and allows users to make connections between these different elements of their well-being.

It’s not just small or new brands engaging with the topic, though. In September 2020, Maybelline created Brave Together, a philanthropic platform, through which the brand will invest $10 million over the next five years to mental health organizations worldwide. It also has a resource site and a text support line, created in partnership with the Crisis Text Line. (Users can text “TOGETHER” to 741741 for access to free, confidential counseling.)  For May, Maybelline partnered with Urban Sophistication to launch an iPhone case and makeup bundle — 100% of proceeds will be donated to The Jed Foundation, which works to prevent suicide among adolescents. 

Biore’s Get That Sh*t Out campaign was created in partnership with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). MHFA and Biore’s goal is to provide free mental health first aid training to at least 100 colleges in the U.S. (The training teaches participants to safely and responsibly identify and address potential mental illness or substance abuse challenges, and equip them with an action plan.) In keeping with the authenticity needed for a campaign around mental health to actually resonate with the brand’s Gen-Z audience, employees of the brand are sharing their own mental health stories on the brand’s social platforms.

Essentially, brands have the opportunity to meet people where they are. “What we’ve learned is that families don’t necessarily talk about mental health. Not all schools have a counselor. Not all friends, not all families know to talk about it or feel comfortable talking about it,” Welch said.  “And you think about where someone’s attentions lie. And if that’s on Instagram, and it’s a healthy way to deliver a message to someone that can make a difference in their life, then that seems worthwhile. Whether it’s one person or a million people, why not do it?”