As most of us know, Jan. 31 was dedicated to the mental health awareness campaign Bell Let’s Talk. On that day, the telecommunications powerhouse donated five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives for every text message or call made between Bell users and for social media engagement ranging from viewing Bell Let’s Talk videos to using the campaign’s Snapchat filter to tweeting #BellLetsTalk.
The purpose of all this, according to the campaign’s website, is to reduce the stigma around mental illness, improve access to care and support mental health research. Since the first Bell Let’s Talk Day in 2011, the awareness campaign has raised $93.4 million (nearly $7 million on Jan. 31, 2018). This is undoubtedly a tremendous contribution to our society. In Quebec alone, 16 mental health institutions, organizations and hospitals have received between $200,000 and $2 million in funds from Bell Let’s Talk since 2011 (for a total contribution of about $9.4 million).
The initiative is about more than just money though. It’s about starting a conversation. Statistics Canada estimates one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. Scrolling through social media feeds on Jan. 31 revealed countless stories about these Canadians and their experiences with mental illness. People opened up about their struggles, their journey and their hope. That evening, CTV aired “In Their Own Words: A Bell Let’s Talk Day Special” in which regular Canadians spoke openly about their mental health.
These stories are the stories that give others the strength to speak up. These are the stories that will spark empathy among those who might otherwise alienate. These are the stories that will change the way our society perceives and responds to mental illness. Bell Let’s Talk Day has certainly played a major role in making these stories heard. Yet, we at The Concordian want to remind our readers of the necessity to keep this conversation going and to build off of Bell’s initiative.
Tweeting a campaign hashtag or liking a video on Facebook one day a year is only the first step in a process that requires consistency and concrete action. If your social media activity contributed to the funds collected on Jan. 31, thank you. But do not think that absolves you of your responsibility to support this cause for the rest of the year.
In the book Digital Mosaic: Media, Power and Identity in Canada, author and communications professor David Taras warns that activism on social media tends to give users “the illusion of involvement without its substance.” This can lead many to substitute real commitment and action with “cheap and convenient” Internet activism. It is a behaviour Taras and other scholars refer to as “slacktivism.” It is a trap we at The Concordian caution you against falling into.
So keep the conversation going, and keep it going outside of the digital world. Be proud of your involvement in Bell Let’s Talk Day, but don’t think that alone makes you a mental health advocate. If you truly care about this initiative, expect more from yourself. Share your story or support others who do; educate yourself about what language can be harmful or helpful; challenge stereotypes and misconceptions. If you truly care about this initiative, truly get involved. Mental health issues and our society’s perception of them are complex; change requires much more than just one day.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin