Audio Brings Mental Health Awareness to the Forefront, and Brands Can Do the Same

The world has officially entered its healing era. People are putting mental health front and center and are using audio as a well to heal old wounds. The storied power of sound to soothe people goes back millennia. From mothers’ voices and lullabies to playlists and film scores, audio not only sets the tone, it also shapes moods.

In March, SXM Media launched its Culture Trends Report with the message that audio is culture, defining the harmonious relationship between impactful moments in culture, the music they inspire, and the ways listeners respond and react.

One of the report’s five trends is “Safe and Sound.” With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, the time is right to look at how musicians and podcasters are bringing mental health to the forefront and how brands can do the same with the messages they create and the content they surround.

Feel safe with sound

There is an inextricable link between sound and emotion. From a singer’s dulcet tone to a song’s rhythm to an expert’s voice, audio is there for listeners in good times and bad. A Q4 2021 Pandora Healthcare Soundboard Study found that nine in 10 listeners surveyed listen to music to benefit their mental health. And 46% of podcast listeners say they listen to podcasts for mental health.

Keeping calm and carrying on isn’t how people do it anymore. The pandemic kicked the door wide open for mental health acceptance with plenty of help from musicians and podcast hosts. Now artists like Jay-Z feel comfortable discussing how therapy has helped them through tough times to become better people, and audiences are here for it.

Lean into emotion

In 2022, there were major music moments that elevated mental health from a conversation into the movement it’s become. Many of these moments were led by talented Black women who are standing up to the “Strong Black Women’’ label and showing they can be vulnerable, too. Lizzo’s anthemic “About Damn Time” dropped in April, asking listeners how they’re healing and inspiring all to literally “turn up the music.” And fans responded with a 75% increase in Lizzo stations created on Pandora.

In June, the Queen B herself hit the world with “Break My Soul,” showing defiance in the face of adversity. And the Bey-hive “released their anger” as they drove a 45% increase in Pandora stations.

“Beyonce’s ‘Break My Soul’ is a tried-and-true example of how we use music to deal with difficult situations,” says Joshua “J1” Raiford, VP of music programming at SiriusXM. “If you go all the way back to when Black people were brought over here as slaves, we used music as a way to communicate, as a way to deal with oppression, as a way to inspire. We did it during the civil rights movement, and we’re doing it now to deal with the difficulties and the issues that we face today.”

As J1 points out, music has historically been more than an outlet during difficult times; it’s been a lifeline. So, it is natural that after countless attacks to mental health and wellbeing, people are all shedding their tough personas and finding strength in vulnerability.

In September, Megan Thee Stallion launched a mental health website: Bad Bitches Have Bad Days Too. The site is a resource for the Black community and LGBTQ+ people of color, featuring an abundance of resources in one place. This example is proof that, yes, you can be strong, but recognizing when you’re feeling vulnerable and need help is a sign of strength, too.

Be the brand to lean on

In October, self-help speaker and author Mel Robbins launched The Mel Robbins Podcast with Stitcher, garnering 1.7 million downloads in one month across all listening platforms supported by Simplecast. This is just one of many signs that audiences are hungry for health and wellness content delivered with love and transparency. More and more mental health experts are taking to the mic to meet the demand.

From music to podcasts, the appetite for this affirming, empowering content continues to grow. The best way brands can support audiences as they seek to improve their lives through audio is to support the content they crave. And the messaging should meet them where they are honestly and respectfully.

Think authenticity, not profitability: Audiences are done with “these trying times” style messages that awkwardly lead to a sales pitch. They want authentic messages that uplift them and genuinely address their challenges and concerns.

Be an escape: Audiences turn to audio to release the pressure valve and elevate their moods. Find ways to extend that safe space and foster positivity.

Catch them in the mood: Look for content that aligns to your overall brand message. Media companies can help brands target stations and shows that elicit strong emotional responses.

Make a meaningful impact: Podcasts are a free self-care resource, making mental health more accessible. Brands can support this content while simultaneously leveraging the hosts’ trusted voices and audience connections.

People have always turned to audio for commiseration and elevation. Now, the medium’s voices are bringing more direct mental health messages to guide them through life’s challenges and help them rise above them. And brands can bring their voices to the movement through audio.