Ransom Notes Ad Campaign to Promote Mental Health Awareness: Helpful? Or in Bad Taste?

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • Earlier this month, New York University's Child Study Center began a provocative ad campaign to promote awareness of childhood psychiatric disorders such as ADHD, autism, depression, and more.


    Headed by CSC's director, Dr. Harold Koplewicz, who partnered with an ad agency that spearheaded the campaign pro bono, the so called "ransom notes" were posted on billboards throughout the New York City area. One of the messages read: "We have your son. We will make sure he will not be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives. This is only the beginning. (signed): Autism."


    At the bottom of the posters were links to the Child Study Center's website, which offers lots of resources about childhood psychiatric disorders, in addition to information specifically about the Center.

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    I have followed this story with great interest because I simply couldn't decide whether I found it a great way to promote awareness, or whether I found it offensive. As a parent of a child with disabilities, both feelings tugged at me. We certainly need to educate people about how ADHD and other disorders can ravage a child's quality of life, yet...the stereotypes of the challenges of, say, Autism, just didn't sit right with me.


    Apparently, there were many people who found the ads so offensive, they hit hard with thousands of emails and phone calls to the center. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network was very vocal in proclaiming that the ads were stigmatizing, inaccurate and that they implied that children with autism have no social skills, dooming them to a world of social isolation. They sent the Center a letter of complaint, signed by local and national advocacy groups, protesting the ads.


    Today, in response to the many negative comments, the ad campaign was pulled.


    Dr. Koplewicz said that, despite the negative publicity, no ground had been lost: "It's the first time that the issue of children's mental health has gotten national attention without being precipitated by a shooting at a high school or college," he said.


    What do you think? Was this an effective way to educate people about this important health issue? Did you agree with his tactic?


Published On: December 20, 2007