These ugly sweaters deliver some ugly truths about mental health during the holidays

Who: Citizen Relations, with the Canadian Mental Health Association and Undivided Creative.

What: “Ugly (Truths) Holiday Sweaters,” an awareness campaign that speaks to the feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation that can arise during the holiday season, using one of its most recognizable pieces of iconography: The ugly sweater. “It’s about us contributing to an important conversation that is meaningful to the organization and its staff,” said Citizen Relations’ chief creative officer, Josh Budd.

When & Where: There’s no paid media for the campaign. Instead, Citizen is sending the sweaters to celebrities, athletes, government officials and business leaders across Canada and the U.S. who have been vocal about mental health issues, and asking them to use their platform to speak up using the hashtag #UglyHolidayTruths.

Why: The most wonderful time of the year can exact a heavy toll on people’s mental health. A survey of 1,500 Canadians commissioned by Citizen found that more than half of people (52%) report feelings of depression or sadness, anxiety, worry, isolation or loneliness during the holiday season.

“We want those for who the season does affect their mental health to know they’re okay, they’re not alone and there are resources,” said Budd. “It’s to help balance the conversation around the holidays, when the overwhelming amount of the media conversation right now is around the jolly and festive.”

How: Citizen partnered with, which provided sweaters bearing messages such as “1 in 4 get the gift of increased anxiety,” “Crisis calls to youth hotlines increase by 23%” and “25% of women deck the halls depressed.”

The agency sent 300 sweaters to media and influencers/supporters in both the U.S. and Canada, including tennis player Eugenie Bouchard, singer Chantal Kreviazuk and Canada’s Drag Race winner Priyanka. The idea is that they will use their profile and social followings to spark discussion around the toll the holidays can take on people’s mental health. It also worked with Undivided Creative and photographer Nikki Ormerod to create a photo shoot of typical holiday moments with people wearing the ugly truth sweaters.

And we quote: “The holidays are the time of year when we over-index on things like who’s naughty and nice, the top 10 must-have gifts, the baking and beverage items of the year,” said Budd. “It’s not like [mental health] issues go away—in fact it’s kind of the opposite. There are a tons of pressures and stresses around the holidays that provide additional challenges for a lot of us.”

Chris Powell