HomeInsightsAdvertising Standards Authority publishes guidance on getting it right on mental health

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The ASA points out that advertisers have a responsibility to make sure their ads do not have an adverse impact on those affected by mental health issues or on society more generally.

While it may be tempting for advertisers to push boundaries or provoke debate, they must still prepare their ads with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. This principle is explicitly stated in Rule 1.3, and is likewise reflected in sector-sections of the Code, such as those relating to gambling and alcohol.

In the rules on alcohol advertising, for example, the CAP Code states that care should be taken not to exploit the young, the immature, or those who are mentally or socially vulnerable (Rule 18.1).

As well as requiring that gambling ads should be prepared with particular emphasis on protecting vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited (Rule 16.1), the Code states that gambling ads should not suggest that gambling can provide an escape from problems such as loneliness or depression (Rule 16.3.3). Advertisers should therefore avoid referring to mental health problems in this context.

In the rules on harm and offence, Rule 4.1 states that ads should not cause serious or widespread offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age, all of which are classed as “protected characteristics” by the Equality Act 2010. Although not all mental health problems are likely to be classed as a disability, advertisers should always avoid making references to mental health conditions in a way that risks causing serious or widespread offence.

When advertising health, beauty and slimming products, including therapies, marketers often refer to conditions that they aim to treat. However, there are a number of conditions that should only be referred to if the advice or treatment will be conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional (Rule 12.2). CAP’s Advertising Guidance on this topic lists the medical conditions that are covered by this Rule, and a number of mental health problems are included on this list. Before referring to medical conditions in ads for their treatments or devices, then, advertisers should check their claims against this list, and only include a reference to the condition if a suitably qualified medical practitioner will be present.

For mental health problems that do not appear on this list, or where there will be a suitably qualified medical practitioner present, marketers must still hold robust documentary evidence to prove the effectiveness of their product or treatment (Rule 12.1). To read the guidance in full, click here.