Kenneth Cole on Changing the Way We Talk About Mental Health

Kenneth Cole

New York fashion mogul Kenneth Cole is on a mission to fight the stigma around mental health. Last year, Cole launched the Mental Health Coalition, a collection of the nation’s leading advocacy groups, celebrities and business leaders. Together, they hope to change the way we talk about mental health and help people access the services they need.

“I am in the perception business, and I am determined to shift culture and change the narrative around mental health,” he told me.

The emphasis on creating more dialogue around mental health has become especially important amid the pandemic when so many Americans have been separated from their loved ones. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke with the designer about the coalition’s latest initiative in partnership with Instagram and Facebook.

Check out our conversation below.

Katie Couric: You’ve taken on so many important causes in your life. How did you become so passionate about mental health?

Kenneth Cole: I’m not sure if I found this issue or it found me. As it’s found most of us.  My journey ultimately began back in the 1980s when I started my business and wanted to find a meaningful way to connect with my customers.  Through the years I have done work around HIV/AIDS, gun safety, homelessness, equality, and most recently with mental health.  

According to WHO, 1 in 4 people in the world will live with mental health conditions. We believe that it is 4 in 4, and that mental health is arguably the worst pandemic the world has ever faced. Furthermore, because of the related stigma, 2 out of 3 affected don’t seek help or care. I am in the perception business, and I am determined to shift culture and change the narrative around mental health.

We are confident that the more people talk about mental health, and normalize the conversation, the greater the impact on the related stigma that today prevents so many from speaking out and/or seeking help.  Together we can end the debilitating stigma connected to mental health, but only together.

So many people have struggled during the last year plus because of the pandemic.  Have you had mental health issues yourself? Or those close to you?

The pandemic has taught us that human connection — however possible — is so important. Social connectivity is such a powerful concept, but so often taken for granted. It has been hard for so many to feel “cut off” from the world like we were during quarantine, and it has become clear that it has an impact your mental health. In-person, human connection is something that I think moving forward, the general public will be much more conscious of and place a higher value on. Mental health impacts so many people, including people who I love and care for very much.  

Tell me about Every Day in May.

Determined to shift culture and change the narrative around mental health, we are launching a ‘121’ Instagram TV Series in partnership with Instagram/Facebook, during Mental Health Awareness Month.  The campaign will run the entire month of May and 31 days gives us the opportunity to share 31 different and inspiring stories and to highlight the extraordinary work of our 31 leading mental health organizations.

The concept stems from the idea that “Every 1 needs to talk 2 some 1,” which has resonated particularly well during the recent quarantine due to COVID-19. The purpose of this effort is to encourage open and honest conversations around mental health and inspire people to connect with someone they trust. At the end of the session, a trained mental health clinician will join the conversations to contextualize, offer additional support, and be available for questions.

Follow @mentalhealthcoalition on Instagram to tune into the 31 conversations.

Who are some of the people taking part?

Including the incredible Katie Couric, we have a long list of iconic actors, musicians, athletes and influencers including but not limited to: 

  • Alan Cumming
  • B Simone & Erika De La Cruz
  • Brittany Snow
  • Carson Daly
  • Charlamagne Tha God
  • Chasten Buttigieg
  • Chris Hubbard & Mark Harrison
  • DJ D-Nice
  • Dr. Deepak Chopra
  • Delilah Belle Hamlin
  • Drew & Linda Scott
  • Hannah Brown 
  • Jewel
  • Former Governor, John Kasich 
  • Josh Richards & Griffin Johnson
  • Julianne Hough & Maude Hirst
  • Kalen Allen
  • Kesha & Wrabel
  • Liza Koshy
  • Kevin Love & Doc Rivers
  • Michael Strahan
  • Michelle Williams
  • Sydel Curry-Lee & Damion Lee 
  • Vic Mensa
  • Whoopi Goldberg 

How do we destigmatize mental health issues moving forward, past the month of May? 

We know that this is just the beginning, but it is our hope that this campaign will reach hundreds of millions of people who will see how vulnerability can, in fact, be a strength and how they can empathetically be supportive of one another. With this campaign and all that MHC does, we are working to end the silence, reduce the stigma, and engage our community.  Now, more than ever, we must increase the conversation around mental health.  

We encourage everyone to check in with family and friends, start to normalize conversations in your own circle, and utilize the resources that MHC has on our website.