Human Candles Alight to Raise Mental Health Alarm in Denmark

Battling youth burnout across the nation

Five years ago, the World Health Organization classified burnout as a disease. Then Covid happened, and mental health issues exploded throughout the world.

Today, 44 percent of Danish youth suffer from burnout, according to Denmark's Institute of Culture and Learning. With that in mind, March 9 will now be recognized as Mental Health Day, and public schools will work with youth education groups to help students cope with stress and the increasing complexities of life.

The initiative is led by the Danish Broadcasting Corp. and several partners, modeled after a long-standing "physical health day" in the nation's schools.

Public broadcaster P3 Missionen worked with agency Uncle Grey to promote the new Mental Health Day, using person-sized candles to spark public conversation.

The creative team placed these eye-catching wax figures across the country, and they will also make appearances on various P3 channels. The statues symbolize what happens if we leave burnout to fester among young people: "Inaction will lead to an entire generation burning out," the agency warns. The candles will take about two months to completely burn out.

Watching this, we thought about a common strain of folk magic in which candles are lit to help human intent reach fruition. Often, these candles must burn all the way down to release intent into the world, ideally bending energies to purpose.

The campaign's symbolism is somewhat opposite, but no less magical. Those giant human candles are going to burn out, because they're candles, but you don't actually want them to. They are designed to inspire others to action, to help prevent the same thing from happening to young people. As in the folk magic model, the candles embody, then hopefully trigger, a particular outcome.

Young people's reasons for burnout are pretty significant: Covid was rough, and increased their depression rate. This is compounded by the trauma of what feels like imminent environmental collapse, and the pressure of needing to perhaps mortgage their futures amid a rocky global economy.

Just thinking about it makes our head hot.

"We needed to create a symbol of the state of the youth and show the consequences if we don't act now," explains Clara Prior-Knock, Uncle Grey creative director. "All statues lead to a series of solutions—one of which is the Mental Health Day in Danish schools."

Policymakers and other social stakeholders will receive smaller versions of the candles. That's good; youth burnout is a community issue, and can't be managed solely by teaching young people how to address toxic systemic pressures. Bespoke packaging, designed for politicians, describe how each of them can help.

"For years we have focused on the importance of physical health—now it’s time to focus on keeping the mind fit," says Charlotte Porsager, COO at Uncle Grey. "With this project, we hope we can shine a light on the importance of that, and help young people know they are not alone in their struggle." 

Made of paraffin and stearin, the candles took 48 hours to cast. Each weighs about 85 kilograms (187 pounds), and comes encased in plexiglass, which weighs 100kg (200 lbs). Four people were needed to lift the plexiglass over the candle to complete the installations.

The mold used to create the statues took 14 days to create, weighing 300 kg (661 pounds). (We wonder where the agency's keeping that!)


P3 Missionen
DR / P3
Dorthe Duvander Kragh, Cross-category Producer, DR Youth
Malene Birkebæk, Editor in Chief, DR Youth
Linda Etgar, Head of indie TV commissioning, DR Youth
Marina Jensen, Project Manager DR Youth

Uncle Grey
Creative Chairman: Lars Samuelsen
Creative Director: Clara Prior-Knock
Creative: Jacob Grandt, Cecilie Jelstrup Larsen, Nicoline Grace Paulsen, Simon Frøsig
Editor & Motion GFX Artist: Thorbjørn Fessel
Head of Production: Anja Erngart
Digital Director: Kasper A. Nielsen
Chief Operating Officer: Charlotte Porsager

Løgumkloster Lys
Alexander Rindom Andersen, Fellow
Jonathan Grinderslev Jensen, Trainee

Solits B.V
Mariana Belivanaki, Head of Sales UK and Scandinavia

Ebbefos Fonden

Advisory organizations:
Ungdommens Røde Kors
Region Syddanmark
ABC for Mental sundhed, Københavns Universitet

Student organizations:
Modstrøm – Foreningen for FGU-elever og unge omkring FGU
Landssammenslutningen af Handelsskoleelever
Erhvervsskolernes Elevorganisation
Danske Gymnasieelevers Sammenslutning

School organizations:
FGU Danmark
Danske Erhvervsskoler og -Gymnasier
Danske Gymnasier
Dansk Ungdoms Fællesråd (DUF)
Ungdomsbureauet o.a.

Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is the European markets editor at Muse by Clio. She also writes about gaming and fashion, and whatever else she's interested in, really. She's based in Paris and North Italy, so if you're local, say hi. She might eat all your food.

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