“But she always seemed so happy.” More than once I have found myself listening to these words come out of the mouths of close friends of individuals dealing with a mental illness. They are surprised to discover that someone so close to them, with whom they interact every day and is seemingly happy, could be dealing with so much on the inside.

Mental illnesses can affect individuals of any age — a five-year-old child, a 20-year-old adolescent, or a 60-year-old elder. While there are various resources that encourage these individuals to talk to someone, not everyone feels comfortable sharing intimate details of their life with others. Some may not even be aware of, or willing to admit they have a problem, dismissing their feelings as fleeting. Information presented in the media and through educational programs at school aim to provide ways of identifying “symptoms” and “signs.” However, with these conditions being so sensitive and case-specific, it is hard to be able to generalize the symptoms across all individuals. So how can we help ourselves help our friends?

Schools should equip students with marketing tools they can use to help their family and friends. Specifically, the insights gained from behavior event modeling and complemented by those gained from laddering. Behavior event modeling provides us with an organized way of understanding the possible sequence of events and behaviors that may result in a particular outcome.

Many marketers use behavior event modeling when trying to understand consumer behavior and answer questions such as, “Why did this person make an impulse purchase at the counter?” or “What causes an individual to decide to go to the concert?”

In the case of depression, we hope to better understand the events that may lead to triggering one’s mental illness. For example, a bad test grade can lead to disheartenment or inability to focus on future assignments. This can in turn trigger a cycle of poor performance that can lead to low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.

By recognizing that a poor test performance can result in such a self-propagating cycle, a friend can prevent this by asking their peer to study together for upcoming examinations. Furthermore, they can encourage their friend to talk to the professor early on improve their grade in the class going forward.

Laddering is an interviewing technique used to gain insight in to the underlying values associated with the attributes consumers like in products. Detailing the motivations and reasons why certain traits and consequences are important help marketers understand consumer behavior. Extending the example given earlier, while behavior event modeling might help one realize that poor test performance is negatively correlated with self-esteem, laddering can help explain why academic performance is important.

For example, academic performance might correlate with trying to impress one’s family. This might be important because they want to show their family they are capable of being success or they may be seeking acceptance and affection. If a parent recognizes that their child values affection, they can display their love for them and reassure that it is not tied to their academic performance.

Perhaps academic performance is an indicator of ability and future success. Peers and parents can relay stories where, despite poor grades, individuals were able to be successful. Furthermore, the individual can connect with mentors in the field they hope to pursue to better understand other ways they can refine their skills. In this way, the simultaneous use of the marketing tools described can help peers better understand specific individuals by tailoring the strategies to them and coping with the mental illness together.

— Vatsala Paliwal, Plainsboro