Let’s take a little time out to discuss the #BellLetsTalk campaign. This is a social media drive that donates 5¢ toward mental health initiatives every time the campaign is referenced in social media, a Bell customer texts or calls long-distance, or the video is viewed.
I’m noticing a polarization of opinions and reactions to Bell for this campaign; people either love Bell for making mental health issues a subject of public discourse, or they hate the corporate giant for reaping the marketing benefits of hashtagging a serious issue. Usually, I jump at the chance to critique trends in social media, but this one I’m not so sure about. My opinion of #BellLetsTalk is similar to that of the Ice Bucket Challenge: I’m happy to have my social media feeds occupied by mentions of Bell Mobility if it leads to a greater awareness and understanding of a serious condition, especially if it also creates funding for support services and/or medical research of said condition. At first glance the Ice Bucket Challenge was an irritating trend that gave celebrities exposure; but, it was a trend that contributed to further genetic understanding of the degenerative disease.
If what is reported by the Bell Mobility website is accurate, 2016 alone saw 125,915,295 interactions under this campaign, which would translate to $6,295,764.75 in funding for mental health initiatives. Some of the applications of this funding include:
Canadian Bipolar Association – North Vancouver, BC
The Bell Let’s Talk grant will enable the Association to provide training to more peer supporters throughout the province, putting them through a rigorous 2-month course to learn communications and problem-solving techniques and effective coping strategies with which they can help other clients better balance their wellness and improve their methods of self-management.
Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society – Victoria, BC
In its work to assist in the settlement and adjustment of newcomers to Canada, this organization will use Bell Let’s Talk funding to hire an Assessment Coordinator who will assess clients and refer them to the appropriate branch of the Immigrant and Refugee Wellness Centre. This person will also train frontline workers from 3 other organizations to recognize trauma in their clients and know when to refer them for assessment.
Westcoast Family Centres – Vancouver, BC
As part of its mandate to help parents gain better skills, this group will use Bell Let’s Talk funds to mount a series of Kids Have Stress Too! workshops for parents whose children aged 2 to 8 may be exhibiting anxiety and worrying behaviours. The funding will support the hiring of a facilitator and two child minders for each 3-hour session to be offered around the lower mainland.
Those three examples are from British Columbia for the year 2016 alone. Bell’s analysis of all funding toward mental health from 2011 to 2016 is as follows:
There are definitely ethical considerations with this marketing campaign, as an article on Hey Receiver describes, “Users are not actually generating the money that Bell gives to charity through some kind of magic machinery that turns tweets into dollars. This money already exists, but Bell is only going to give it away if you send a text message or use a hashtag.” And, as Darren Barefoot points out, it would have been more useful and less egocentric for Bell to build this campaign and hashtag around the WHO’s World Mental Health Day rather than concern themselves with improving their brand.
Government funding for public health services, particularly mental health services, is disproportionately low to the need for such services. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Fast Facts about Mental Illness page, 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Speaking as someone who has been a recipient of publicly funded mental health services, I have no reservations in assuring you that resources are in too short supply to adequately meet the needs of the public. In my experience, the waitlists for access for just assessment services, not even ongoing outpatient based treatment, can be upwards of a year; and, because services are in such short supply, your provided counselor, team, or group may not meet the needs you have, meaning you sometimes need to go back to square one. If you’d rather peruse the numbers than take my anecdotes as gospel, have a glance at statistics provided by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health concerning the availability of mental health services versus the need for such services, and the resulting impact on the economy and overall public health.
#BellLetsTalk does not resolve all mental health issues in a single day, but it is a step in the right direction, even if it means begrudgingly boosting the corporation’s marketing efforts. If it’s less the PR implications of this campaign and more the slacktivist nature of mindlessly liking, sharing, or retweeting that makes your blood boil, do something a little extra for the cause:
- Contact municipal, provincial, or federal representatives and tell them you want to know how they will help champion for the rights and services of the mentally ill.
- Donate to the Canadian Mental Health Association or a similar institution like I just did.
- Volunteer at an organization like the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
- Further educate yourself, your family, and your friends about what mental illness is and how we can help those with mental health issues.
- Challenge the stigma of mental illness and the treatment of mental illness. A major roadblock in the treatment of mental illness is fear of judgment by peers and superiors.
- Tell Bell Mobility a better way to build their campaign. It’s easy to post about the misguided actions of a corporation; it’s more of a challenge to do better than that same corporation.
- Do all of the above in the same action, and use the damn #BellLetsTalk hashtag while you’re at it, so that everyone who sees it has the opportunity to step away from armchair criticism.