Bell Let’s Talk
Bell Let’s Talk is admittedly the most well-known campaign to assist with mental health awareness. In the spirit of encouraging conversation, I sat down with Ashley Posluns and Ethan Lipson to discuss the details you may not already know about.
What do you know about Bell Let’s Talk?
Ashley: This campaign is now in its sixth year of supporting mental health initiatives in Canada. On a specified day in January, any text message sent and local or long distance phone call made by Bell cellular service customers’ results in 5 cents being donated to many large and small mental health organizations. Non-Bell customers can still participate by tweeting with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk or sharing the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook image. This year, Bell Let’s Talk will take place on January 27.
Ethan: Bell has given $100 million dollars to various organizations, including: $10 million dollars to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, $2.5 million to Kid’s Help Phone and $1 million to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Additionally, Bell Let’s Talk offers grants in the range of $5,000-$25,000 for individual communities, allowing for a macro and micro approach to the financial support that is offered by this initiative. Additional money is raised by the #BellLetsTalk social media campaign.
When was the first time you participated?
Ethan: I am fortunate enough to have many people in my life that are involved in social services. Both my Mother and Stepfather are trained as social service workers and have, or currently do, work within the field. Because of this, I have been aware of the initiative since its inception. The first year, 2010, I shared an image on Facebook and have participated more since I began using twitter. This year will be the first time I have used Bell as my phone provider and I am looking forward to harassing my close friends and family by texting them the alphabet, one letter at a time.
Ashley: The first time I participated was 2013, and I’ve probably done so every year since. I remember hearing lots of talk about the campaign in the media and among friends at school. From seeing other peoples’ tweets and eventually understanding the campaign, I decided to participate.
— ashley posluns (@ashleyposluns) February 12, 2013
In what ways does Bell Let’s Talk benefit mental health awareness?
Ethan: Bell does a wonderful job of helping mental illness from a financial standpoint. However, it is Bell’s commitment to raising awareness that defines Bell Let’s Talk. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) since the inception of the program 81% of Canadians say that they are more aware of issues related to mental health, 70% believe that attitudes towards mental illness have improved and 57% think stigma has been reduced. What these numbers illustrate is that starting the conversation about mental illness has been a vital aspect of the initiative.
In what new ways does Bell approach mental health?
Ethan: Bell has built Bell Let’s Talk on what they call, “the four pillars”: anti-stigma, care and access (support for those who need it), workplace health (understanding mental health in the job sector) and research. Why this approach is wholly unique is because very few social service programs can afford to invest in all four of these areas. Bell has the financial fluidity and nation-wide reach to be able to highlight any of these “pillars” without having to sacrifice any money or time that would otherwise be allocated to another “pillar”. Bell is in the enviable position of positively impacting the who, what, when, where, why and how of mental illness awareness simply because they have the most assets to do so.
Ashley: They’re also approaching it through the popular platform of social media. Not only is Bell attempting to fight mental health issues with social media hype but they are also endorsing celebrities such as Clara Hughes (Olympic medalist), Howie Mandel (actor and executive producer), and Serena Ryder (musician) as spokespersons for their campaign. It’s possible to say that the Bell Let’s Talk mental health campaign is used as a boost for Bell as a company, too.
Does Bell benefit from the campaign?
Ashley: Yes. It has not only improved Bell’s reputation as a company but also its customer base and revenue. What we all must remember during this campaign is that Bell is a corporation with the common goal of maximizing their wealth. If Bell was in it for those affected by mental health, “Bell” would not be part of the #BellLetsTalk hashtag and have their company name so involved. On a more positive note, however, Bell has taken the initiative to improve their own company’s mental health standards in employee contracts. Only recently did Bell improve their standards in-company; their external Bell Let’s Talk campaign did not align with their internal corporate culture. Bell now offers certified mental health leadership training and other intervention programs including tools and information to their employees. Additionally, Bell employees now receive three mental health weeks per year.
What changes would you make, if you could, to the campaign?
Ashley: Bell could simply decide to donate the money to mental health organizations and programs. Instead, they decided to design a campaign that involved improving their brand reputation, customer base, and overall revenue. I believe that there is a virtue in simply donating money without announcing it to the world. Furthermore, why should a corporation get to financially benefit from “improving” or bringing attention to a public health crisis?
What other ways can people become involved?
Ethan: The campaign stresses that the language used to address issues related to mental health is a key component in fighting stigma. Avoiding words such as crazy and psycho will promote a healthy and honest discussion about the affects of mental illness. By educating yourself you can learn to identify truths about mental illness in relation to the myths. Also, being kind can make all of the difference. Showing sympathy or empathy toward someone suffering will not only make their day easier but illustrate to others that it is acceptable to have a discourse about mental illness in all situations. By listening and asking you can offer necessary support. Finally, talking about mental illness is they true key to getting involved. Starting a dialogue is the only way to achieve all of the other steps in this list. Feel comfortable having conversation about mental illness and others will be sure to join.
Ashley: There are plenty of volunteer opportunities available – especially with not-for-profit companies. I think that people should keep the conversation going. We shouldn’t need a campaign and a hashtag with a company name stapled to it to focus on the topic of mental health. Bell has simply stimulated a 24 hour “conversation,” but there is more to be said. To see social change, the issues need to be constantly revisited. People need to be attentive to what’s going on around them. You can also consider taking the Workplace Mental Health Leadership certificate program, available in Toronto (you register here).
Is there anything else about Bell Let’s Talk that you’d like to share?
Ethan: Like any other large scale initiative Bell Let’s Talk is not perfect. Not all proceeds go to the various organizations that they support. The company could do more to lobby the Provincial and Federal governments to increase funding to social services. However, I believe that the positives far outweigh the negatives. This is because the campaign is so multi-faceted. Not only is it raising a tremendous amount of money to support organizations throughout the country, but it strives to end the stigma of mental illness. In this way, Bell Let’s Talk extends itself beyond a one-day fund raiser. Instead, it posits mental illness as something present in the every day lives of those who suffer. By promoting awareness and dialogue Bell is ensuring that the conversation about mental illness is constantly evolving in positive ways.
Ashley: One last thought. Should playing on the lives – with serious and often life threatening issues – of individuals affected by mental health really be able to benefit a company in such a way as to gain more consumers, more revenue, and a better reputation?
Ashley is an Online Editor for onthedanforth.ca and a photographer for the On The Danforth summer edition. When she’s not binge-watching Gilmore Girls (or even when she is), she’s probably drinking tea, buying pens, or ordering free samples…. You can follow her on (any) social media site @ashleyposluns.
Ethan Lipson is a writer and reader that has a passion for weight lifting and pro wrestling. He is an expert couch surfer and will never turn down a slice of pepperoni pizza. If you like failed sitcoms and awkward pauses, follow him on twitter and instagram.