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Health + Wellness,  Opinion

Bell Let’s Talk is Cheap

Bell Let’s Talk is an annual campaign wherein the telecommunications giant, Bell Canada, donates five cents for every text, wireless and long-distance call by customers, and any social media post that includes #BellLetsTalk. On surface level, the campaign is a success–having donated over $100 million to “mental health programs” in Canada over the last nine years. The campaign has also broadened its reach since it first began in 2011; going on to reserve funding specifically for child and youth programming, military family services, and Indigenous mental health initiatives nationally. However, as the campaign has gained esteem, impulsively becoming the pinnacle of a mental health movement in Canada, it has also fragmented the national conversation around mental illness in a way that is inadequate and arguably irresponsible. There are a number of shortcomings in Bell Let’s Talk that must be addressed. 

It minimizes the fact that we are among a national mental health crisis 

While 50% of Canadians will have or have had a mental illness by the time they reach forty years of age, there seems to be a collectively negotiated agreement that the conversation on mental health ought to be gift-wrapped into a twenty-four hour period. The once-a-year attitude toward the campaign and its subject, in concept alone, disregards the severity of the mental health crisis facing our country. This is a conversation that requires more space than both our government and corporate institutions have sanctioned. It goes without saying–one million and one tweets reading “be kind to one another” is not a sufficient response to suicide placing within the top ten leading causes of death in Canada in 2019.

It waters down terms like anxiety and depression 

No matter how severe or mild, no individual experience of mental illness is more or less valid than another. However, pigeonholing all forms of anxiety or depression into an umbrellaed understanding is a form of erasure–oversimplifying the complexity of anxiety and depression disorders in a way that is harmful. 

The campaign’s call to action is the notion of generating a conversation around mental health in Canada. With the bulk of that conversation taking place on social media platforms such as Twitter, where information being shared is virtually left unregulated–often leaving those seeking further education (especially children and youth) overwhelmed and misinformed. It is a whirlwind of overstimulating information prioritizing numbers over all else. 

The pressure to put your mental illness on display is non-inclusive 

The very principle of Bell Let’s Talk is that within the (marketable) period of twenty-four hours, the concept of flooding news feeds with stories of both trauma and resilience is somehow a universally healthy undertaking of mental illness. This isn’t to say there is no value in sharing one’s experience battling obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), for example. Opening yourself up so vulnerably can be an empowering way of surviving such hardship. Though navigating a personal relationship to mental illness is not linear, and pressuring anyone to share their experiences publicly can be an incredibly traumatic experience in itself.

Not everyone’s next step is to seek professional help, or medical treatment, or share a hashtag online. For many, including myself, personal practice and finding comfort in my environment has been an integral step toward understanding and navigating my struggles with depression. The incredibly one-note form of mental health representation presented in Bell Let’s Talk, is in many ways demoting those who aren’t quite ready to participate somehow further away from the conversation.  

It’s cheap, capitalist philanthropy 

The bottom line is–regardless of where you stand on the approach of Bell Let’s Talk, mental health care is still out of reach for many Canadians. Statistic evidence published by The Globe and Mail reflects truly how scarce access to psychiatric care is in this country. Alongside this, resources are strained–leaving police forced into the role of front-line mental health workers, all while the need for care is growing in schools and the workplace. 

The focal point of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign has always been the donation numbers, though even here Bell Canada begins to lose clout once you’ve honestly assessed the bigger picture. 

Bell Canada will donate a few million dollars, not even independently raised, but solely based on message volumes on January 29th. A number minimal in comparison to its annual revenue of over 20 billion dollars. Then, considering the advertising money saved by having hundreds of millions of messages in the company’s name shared using free labour, not to mention a friendly tax write-off. On top of this is the publicity associated with, insufficiently, Canada’s largest mental health campaign–and you have yourself a seemingly foolproof plan of gaining major credit for minimal effort. 

This corporate initiative has essentially inserted itself into a system of mental health care that is, in large, failing Canadians. Worst of all, this campaign is acting as a placeholder for institutional and government action that can and should be working to increase accessibility, resources, and reliable information regarding mental health care in Canada. 

Bell Let’s Talk is not necessarily a villain in all of this, the campaign is simply not the solution to Canada’s national mental health crisis–and continuing to rely on it as such is dangerous. 


  • Michael Zavarella

    Very well written. I have agree and disagree. Yes, it’s pathetic that bell does all of this to earn a dollar. To self promote themselves in hopes of achieving a higher profit margin however, we have to ask, which other company in this position is making an effort to create awareness? What are we doing to create awareness? This is about creating awareness and raising funds to help organizations who deal with it. CAMH and so on.

    Me, myself, I have never said “Bell” let’s talk day. It’s let’s talk day. The issue with today’s society, is everyone is offended by every single little thing and they will drastically fail in life because of it. Our PM buys donuts and people grab their picket signs. These people will truly never be free.

    To make a difference, we need to take action ourselves, not criticize others for what they’re doing and trying. That, is the key to assisting in solving mental health.


    Michael Zavarella

  • Faraz L

    Never thought much about it, but couldn’t agree more.

    Especially in Ontario, our provincial government supports causes like these but refuses to take any initiative themselves. Sad

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