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Why Burger King's 'Real Meals' Are Problematic for Mental Health Awareness

Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Juliette Virzi, The Mighty’s mental health editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.


In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Burger King unveiled its new campaign to raise awareness for mental health. The U.S. fast food chain debuted “Real Meals” (riffing on competitor McDonald’s “Happy Meals”) to let consumers know it’s OK not to feel happy all the time.

But to be honest, the campaign is more about throwing shade at McDonald’s than about raising mental health awareness.

The new “Real Meals” come in five differently colored boxes symbolizing different moods — the Pissed Meal, Yaaas Meal, DGAF (Don’t Give A F*ck) Meal, Salty Meal and Blue Meal.

(P.S. If anyone else is wondering how the “Yaaas Meal” is different than the “Happy Meal,” I’m in the same boat.)

“Burger King restaurants understands that no one is happy all the time,” the company said in a release on Wednesday. “That’s why they’re asking guests to order a Whopper meal based on however they might be feeling.”

I’m not the only one who thinks the campaign is less about mental health awareness and more about marketing strategy. Social media users took to Twitter to express their dislike for the “Real Meals.”

While I appreciate that Burger King is starting discussions about mental health, here are four reasons why this campaign mostly makes me roll my eyes.

1. The Campaign Doesn’t Include Mental Health Resources… At All…

Though the caption to Burger King’s official launch video says they partnered with Mental Health America on the campaign, there is no mention of any mental health resources at all. For a campaign seeking to create a conversation about mental health, this is a real oversight.

It’s disappointing to see that if someone does realize they need help because of the campaign, they won’t have resources readily available to them. For anyone who may need help, check out our suicide prevention resource guide here. I’ve also included some important resources below.

2. It’s Unclear If Burger King Is Donating Any of the Proceeds to Mental Health Nonprofits

Normally companies that partner with nonprofits for campaigns like these advertise front and center how much they are donating. For example. American Eagle said it is donating 100% of sales from its mental health sweatshirts to the Buddy Project, the organization it collaborated with.

Burger King has been a lot less upfront. According to Bustle, Burger King donated an unspecified sum to MHA as part of the collaboration, but we don’t know the amount or how it compares to the sales of the novelty boxes.

3. Fast Food Has Been Linked to Depression

Though there is no study that definitively “proves” fast food “causes” depression, studies over the years have shown an association between diet and mental health.

In a study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, researchers found that unhealthy dietary habits correlated with a risk of developing depression. The researchers encouraged doctors to include dietary advice when treating patients with depression.

The association between unhealthy food and mental health is potentially problematic when you think about Burger King advocating for mental health awareness by encouraging consumers to purchase their unhealthy fast food products.

4. The Campaign Only Raises Awareness for “Mainstream” Mental Health Issues

Some have argued the Burger King campaign only “raises awareness” for socially acceptable feelings — and by extension, only socially acceptable mental illnesses. It’s easy to see why the “Blue Meal” for example, could address someone struggling with depression, but what about the “moods” of people who live with highly stigmatized mental illnesses?

This is something Mighty contributor Rebecca Chamaa, who lives with schizophrenia, wrote about in her piece, “Why I’m Not Happy With the ‘Unhappy Meals’ at Burger King“:

When Burger King or any other corporation starts selling a product that has to do with hallucinations, paranoia, delusions or suicidal ideation, I will know that it is safe to talk about all of my symptoms and not just one or two of them. While mainstream mental health awareness campaigns like this put attention on those having a bad day or feeling negative emotions, stigma is fierce and stereotypes still rule the day for those with severe mental illness.

Though people with anxiety and depression still face societal stigma, the conversation surrounding mental illness has changed in the past few years to be more accepting of these diagnoses. When we raise awareness for mental health, we should continue to talk about anxiety and depression, but we can’t exclude mental health experiences that fall outside of what we consider socially “OK.” All people with mental illnesses deserve support, period.

5. Does Burger King Actually Support Employee Mental Health?

With all the talk about Burger King’s “Real Meals,” some Twitter users have questioned if the company actually practices what it preaches when it comes to its own employees.

Former Burger King employee Clari liked the message of Burger King’s campaign but encouraged the fast-food chain to apply the same principles to employees. In a tweet responding to Burger King’s initial announcement, she wrote:

This tweet has me feeling a type of way because when was an assistant manager at BK I was so overworked and stressed that I cried in the walk in multiple times…bring this energy to your regional managers, smaller franchise owners and your employees

A different Twitter user asked if the company provided health care plans that supported employee mental health.

Another user encouraged the fast food giant to pay their employees more if they really cared about mental health issues. This point is especially relevant because researchers found that households with low incomes are associated with lifetime mental disorders and suicide attempts.

These social media users raise good points about what companies can actually do to make a dent in mental health awareness. What if instead of re-packaging existing products in colorful boxes for “mental health awareness,” Burger King made a pledge to support mental health by offering employee access to mental health care and livable wages?

Now that is what I would call badass mental health awareness.

The Mighty reached out to Burger King for comment and has yet to hear back.

Header Image via Burger King Twitter