Announcing the “Emotional Support Human Etiquette” campaign

Walking across a computer keyboard: Irritating! Taking a walk with a worried friend: Excellent! Today, the Horizon Foundation launched a new public outreach campaign designed to help people effectively support those in their lives who may be struggling with mental health challenges. The “Emotional Support Human Etiquette” campaign, modeled after the concept of emotional support animals that provide comfort to many, aims to normalize conversations around mental health and offer tips for people to approach those conversations.

“We all know someone in our lives – a friend, a family member, a neighbor – who is struggling with mental health, yet many of us are afraid of saying the wrong thing or making things worse,” said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO of the Horizon Foundation. “This new campaign shows that we can’t leave it all up to the support dogs, peacocks and turkeys. They’re doing their jobs, and we as humans need to do ours and be emotional supports for each other.”

One in five adults in America experiences a mental illness in a given year, and there continues to be a significant need for mental health support. In 2018, Howard County residents made 2,831 emergency department visits related to a mental health condition – indicating that many community members aren’t receiving mental health care until it is an emergency. Studies show that there is an average delay of eight to 10 years between the onset of symptoms and intervention.

Launched during Mental Health Awareness Month, the campaign encourages all people in the community to show compassion and support for others experiencing mental health challenges by becoming an Emotional Support Human. The campaign provides suggestions on ways to start conversations, ideas on how to create a “safe space” for having those discussions and tips for offering practical help. The goal of the campaign is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health among the public and encourage those needing support to reach out for help.

“Howard County is fortunate to have many collaborative partners – and now everyday Emotional Support Humans – working to improve mental health and wellness in our community,” said County Executive Calvin Ball. “Together, we are ending the stigma around mental health and sending a message to people experiencing mental health challenges: You are not alone.”

The campaign is another piece in a large-scale initiative by the Horizon Foundation to address mental health from multiple angles. Other work includes expanding school-based mental health services in partnership with Howard County Public School System; supporting early intervention programming in Head Start classrooms; hosting mental health film festivals, film screenings and discussions; providing free mental health trainings to the community; working with doctor’s offices to better coordinate mental health services; and partnering with Way Station, Inc., and Howard County General Hospital on emergency mental health services.

“There are dramatic mental health needs in our community – particularly for our youth,” Highsmith Vernick said. “Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and three quarters by age 24. We must give our community the support they need and for them to know they are not alone, and elevating conversations about mental health is the first step.” 

The campaign features a website that presents a social etiquette guide about ways to show emotional support, using humor to make the idea of starting a conversation about mental health seem less intimidating and all the more approachable. The campaign includes ads on Facebook, Instagram and websites that illustrate “bad” and “good” behavior for Emotional Support Humans. Messages and materials from the campaign are being shared by numerous partner organizations including 38 community groups that are mental health outreach grantees of Horizon.

In addition to using the resources on the website, individuals can participate in the Emotional Support Human Etiquette campaign by adding an “Emotional Support Human” frame to their Facebook profile for the month of May, taking the pledge to be an Emotional Support Human and sharing the campaign on Twitter and Instagram.


Become an Emotional Support Human!

  1. Sign the pledge to be an Emotional Support Human at supporthuman.org.
  2. Change your Facebook profile photo for the month of May – Mental Health Awareness Month – to show your friends you are there for them.
  3. Share information on social media using these sample posts.

The Horizon Foundation is the largest independent health philanthropy in Maryland. We lead community change so everyone in Howard County can live a longer, better life. We are committed to improving health through innovative initiatives, collaborative partnerships, strategic grantmaking and thoughtful advocacy. Learn more at www.thehorizonfoundation.org.