Interview with the Team Behind Mental Health Awareness Brand, Make Sure Your Friends Are Okay

BY NATALIE GUILLEN

Make Sure Your Friends Are Okay is a brand centered around that very crucial reminder to check up on the people you care about and to never shy from tough topics.

PHOTO: MSYFAO /  Instagram

PHOTO: MSYFAO / Instagram

Founded by Justin and Hunter Moreno, the company has steadily grown into a social media powerhouse leaving only healthy habits, coping mechanisms, and communication methods in its wake. Justin Moreno and MSYFAO’s Director of Partnerships, Adena Worona, sat down with Blended to discuss the brand’s unorthodox beginning and their hopes for the future.

How did all this start? What exactly sparked the idea? 

J: So it’s kind of a funny story actually. I was just hanging out and we started watching a lot of Catfish, the TV show. We were just bingeing it nonstop and on a random Saturday morning we were watching and I had this thought that these guys would be a lot better off if they had friends who would check on them. So I basically just started formulating the idea, like what can we say, and what kind of phrase can we use to help encourage more people to check on their friends. Then “make sure you’re friends are okay” came to mind and I started to run with it and I checked to make sure there wasn’t something out there that was exactly the same or is even similar. I found that I got pretty lucky with the name and it just started rolling from there.

Why implement merch as the spotlight of the brand?

J: Merch is the first thing that came to mind for me just because it seems like the most accessible way to reach a lot of people. It doesn’t take a whole lot to have “make sure your friends are okay” put on a T-shirt and then people see it and be called to action. So the hope was that people would see it on T-shirts, phone cases, sweatshirts, and all these different things and be encouraged at least to have the thought that they should be going and checking in on their friends. 

Social media platforms, specifically Instagram and YouTube, often get tagged as triggers for plummeting mental health. Can you talk about how you’re using social media to start important conversations instead and how you’re overcoming all the negativity that is sometimes linked to it?

A: It’s without a doubt that social media can really affect our emotional and physical state. It can make people feel envious or depersonalize relationships. We really want to use the platform that we’ve had to make people feel heard and offer people the support they need. We really try to develop a positive online presence by taking the people who have these large audiences, the influencers themselves, and having them really put themselves in a vulnerable place so that we can assist with destigmatizing mental health and really allow that message to spread quickly. I think that while there are all these negative things about it, it is also really important to be realistic and to acknowledge that the best place to have these discussions with a larger audience seems to be social media. So we’re just trying to use it to our advantage. 

What’s been the most difficult obstacle to overcome in your mission to start difficult conversations within such a wide audience?

J: I think there’s still such a stigma around discussing mental health with the people that you’re friends with or the people that you care about. It’s all about breaking down that barrier, and it’s a tough thing for people to overcome. But through these social media posts, and YouTube channels, and all these different things, we’re trying to normalize that conversation amongst friends. That’s the most difficult obstacle to overcome, the stigma around mental health as it exists today, and talking about it more specifically.

Can you tell us more about the companies you’ve collaborated with and what they provide? (BetterHelp, Mental Health America, Telehealth)

A: We think destigmatizing mental health and having conversations is the first step. But the next step is really assisting people to understand that it’s okay to get help. So we’ve been able to use BetterHelp and Mental Health America as partners and we think that they’re companies who are really well-positioned to serve the population we’re talking to. So that includes being able to access their services through your phone, having it be in a price range that this age group can really afford, and they also share this mission that advocates for mental health. Mental Health America shares that mission and also allows people to take assessments through them to get a better understanding of what symptoms they might be having and then they direct them to the right resources. We want to build our conversation into a funnel of getting people the help that they need. That’s really our goal here with our partners.

What does success look like for MSYFAO?

J: For us, success looks like, just reaching as many people as we can. Whatever form that takes, whether it’s a YouTube view or a follower on Instagram, or somebody who purchases a T-shirt, however you can interact with us, we would see as success. Those are steps in the right direction that I was referring to about starting to destigmatize the mental health space and conversations amongst friends. Being successful for us, is just really a matter of growing our community of people that think the same way and that will say and agree that it’s okay to talk about these sorts of things with your friends.

What advice can you give to people that aren’t sure how to start a meaningful discussion with a friend they think is not okay?

A: There’s really no exact script to use when an individual is struggling. I always say that these are your friends, you know them best, so talk to them like you always would. Start a conversation with things that you both are comfortable with, simple questions like, “How are you,” or “I’ve noticed that you’re not feeling well,” or “Is everything okay? You seem down.” Try to really empathize with your friend and offer support and tell them that you’re there for them. Sometimes a person really just needs somebody to listen to them and to be validated. 

What’s next for MSYFAO?

J: Oh man, kind of a lot! So we’re really excited about what’s going on for the rest of this year and then definitely into next year. We’re focusing a lot on telling really true stories and broadcasting that to our audience. For example, we have different sorts of documentary series that we’re putting together that are going to tell stories about people who have overcome certain obstacles in their mental health and things like that. We’ve got conversation pieces that we’re working on of people having real conversations with one another in order to help show that it’s not that hard and that it’s possible for people to talk like this and be able to say how they’re really doing. Then some other cool stuff that we’re working on is we just finished producing our first music video for a song that was written for us.

We’re really excited to get that one out some time next month. Then what’s next today, is that we just released a couple new lines of merchandise. So those people who weren’t fond of the styles before now have a couple of new things to look at and try on. Hopefully, they will all continue to help make sure their friends are okay. 

MSYFAO is quickly becoming a vessel and voice  for our youths’ need for peace of mind in these hectic times. You can follow along with their journey on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, or purchase their merchandise here and help spread the message. 

Lead Image Credit: MSYFAO