The best of non-profit advertising and marketing for social causes

Provocative Ransom Notes on childhood mental illness

Provocative Ransom Notes on childhood mental illness


The NYU Child Study Center just launched a new campaign called “Ransom Notes” to draw attention to childhood psychiatric disorder. This in-your-face approach has created a lot of controversy.
The Ransom Notes campaign is designed as a provocative wake up to create awareness and spark dialogue about the disorders. Twelve million American children and adolescents face daily battles with psychiatric disorders. Untreated, these children are at risk for academic failure, school dropout, substance abuse, suicide, unemployment, and imprisonment according to the NYU Child Study Center.
“Ransom Notes,” the Child Study Center’s most extensive public awareness campaign in its history, was produced pro bono by BBDO. Its public service ads appear in kiosks and bulletin spaces across New York City. The campaign features scrawled and typed communiqués as well as simulations of classic ransom notes, composed of words clipped from a newspaper.

Update 20/12: Ransom-Note Ads About Children’s Health Are Canceled.
The Child Study Center at New York University said on Wednesday that it would halt an advertising campaign aimed at raising awareness of children’s mental and neurological disorders after the effort drew a strongly negative reaction.
Read the story here.

NYU Child Study Center: “The idea behind the “Ransom Notes” is that, all too often, untreated psychiatric disorders are holding our children hostage. These disorders rob children of the ability to learn, make and keep friends and enjoy life.
But many people in a child’s life, such as family members, professionals, friends and other caring adults, have a chance to intervene and help a child who is suffering needlessly.”

In addition to depression, there are ominous threats concerning autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and bulimia. The campaign’s theme is that 12 million children “are held hostage by a psychiatric disorder.”

“Children’s mental disorders are truly the last great public health problem that has been left unaddressed,” said Dr. Koplewicz, founder and director of the Child Study Center, “It’s like with AIDS. Everyone needs to be concerned and informed.”
In some quarters, however, the campaign has raised a lot of controversy. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, a national grass-roots organization of children and adults, is circulating a petition asking the Child Study Center to end the campaign.
Kristina Chew, founder of Autism Vox, which has a link to the petition, says that “the reaction has been mostly outrage from parents of special-needs children, autistic adults, teachers, disability rights advocates and mental health professionals.”

A lot of blogs have written the last days about the campaign, mostly negative. A list of links to articles can be found here.

Thanks for sending Arthur.








NYU Child Study Center

Founder of Osocio. It all started with collecting election posters in 1973. And that's never stopped. Read more.


  1. kait 8 years ago

    since when are ransom notes signed? doesn’t that defeat the purpose? 🙂

  2. persiaprince 8 years ago

    meh, should be treating the source and not the symptoms

  3. larry 8 years ago

    A truly heartless campaign, with only the thought of how lucrative a business selling drugs to children is. See for further info.

  4. Amber 8 years ago

    Yeah, I think treating mental illness is alright and raising awareness is definitely a good thing.

    My only issue with this campaign is that, by pointing out specific mental illnesses and their symptoms, it may be contributing to isolate the kids more completely.

    I dunno, but I have a friend who suffers from a mild case of Asperger’s syndrome and I think he’d feel sort of bad with his condition and its symptoms plastered all over billboards.

  5. Remyr 8 years ago

    I’m in major support of this ad campaign. I am sixteen and have suffered with depression since I was fourteen, and possibly even long before that. People need to know—childhood and adolescent mental illness can be strikingly different from adult. It can ruin futures, not just the present.

  6. SE 8 years ago

    Citizens Commision for Human Rights, also known as IS A FRONT GROUP FOR THE CULT OF SCIENTOLOGY that claim 9/11 and the holocaust was caused by psychiatrists.
    While people should always be skeptical about any drug new to the market, they should be just as skeptical of alternative “treatments”. Such as auditing, and “medical” treatment involving isolation and large amounts vitamins and minerals which are not only ineffective but dangerous in high amounts.
    Be honest with your children and yourselves about things that are worrying you and the red flags that appear with mental disorders. Often times the most effective way to prevent depression, ADD, and even some forms of autism is simply talking about it and going through different types of therapy like music, art.
    Therapy is not just sitting in a room talking to someone. If you don’t like the therapist, change them, if you don’t like the type change it. Give yourself a choice.
    Only then can you know what works for you and your kids. Salvation is not in a pill or in paranoia. It’s in information and action.

  7. scamps 7 years ago

    While it is common for high-functioning individuals on the spectrum to win up with mental illnesses, Autism and Asperger Syndrome are not psychiatric disorders – they’re developmental disorders. For a center for psychiatric research to make such a glaring mistake in an advertising campaign is very dangerous.

  8. Hannabeth 7 years ago

    This is garbage. I have had aspergers syndrome ever since I was 2 and a half, and I’m doing pretty good. And my dad has depression, but he’s not sad 24/7, just sometimes. To the a-holes who made these ad that make me and other people like me look bad. YOU ARE SCUM. That is all.

  9. Emma 6 years ago

    i completely disagree. i have suffered from depression since i was a child and this advertising raises awareness so people like me can get help when they need it instead of being a messed up 21 year old.

  10. Susan 6 years ago

    Very insightful,very true. What do we do?

  11. helloXthere 6 years ago

    I really like this ad campaign, I’v had bulimia for…I don’t even remember how long, and depression. They are completely ok in my book to show how these disorders affect people(though I don’t think Autism and Aspergers are psychiatric disorders). I personally wish they would show these where I live to raise awareness…

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


We respect your privacy. We try to keep the setting of cookies as low as possible - Information: Cookies policy.
Accept Cookies