Bell, let's talk

Mental health stigma won't be ended by a one-day event.

Elisha Corbett argues that ending mental health stigma takes year-round support, not a one-day social media campaign.
Elisha Corbett argues that ending mental health stigma takes year-round support, not a one-day social media campaign.

My father has passed down many wonderful things that to me: my red hair that’s never quite straight or curly; my sarcastic sense of humour that has a tendency to get me into trouble; my knack for making small talk with just about anyone. 

But there are also some things that my dad passed on to me that make my life significantly more challenging. The biggest one is my mental illness. 

Mental illnesses are largely hereditary, but can also be a by-product of a person’s social environment. My grandmother, who recently passed from her own mental illness, was, like me, genetically predisposed.

While my anxiety and anorexia nervosa has hindered many experiences in my life, other things I’ve inherited from my dad have aided me. My dad taught me to always stand up for what I believe in, trust my instincts and criticize things that don’t make sense to me. These qualities have shaped me into the woman I am today. 

This is the reason I did not participate in Bell Let’s Talk. 

Bell Let’s Talk celebrated its sixth anniversary on Jan. 27. Since 2011, Bell has committed to raising over $67.5 million for mental health initiatives across Canada. One day per year, for every tweet or share of #BellLetsTalk, Bell Canada will donate five cents to eliminating the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Last Jan. 27, I was running on the treadmill in the ARC, desperately trying to burn off the few calories I’d consumed that day. As I was running, I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed to see many of friends and family posting about Bell Let’s Talk. 

I felt an overwhelming sense of anger. Many of these friends and family members who were posting to support the campaign, were both unsupportive and unresponsive to me during my worst battles with anorexia. Many of these people posting to help end the stigma surrounding mental health actually contributed to the stigma that I suffer daily. 

After leaving the gym, I felt compelled to write an article criticizing the Bell Let’s Talk movement, but I was talked out of it by many of my friends. Instead, I wrote a letter about the lack of mental health resources at Queen’s, which was published in The Journal last year. 

However, my sentiments towards Bell Let’s Talk haven’t subsided any more than my mental illness has. And since I’m my father’s daughter, I feel an overwhelming need to criticize things that don’t make sense to me. 

Bell Let’s Talk isn’t an effective way to end the stigma surround mental health. The campaign is one day. Mental illness is every day. 

While it’s admirable to have a campaign that focuses on ending the stigma surrounding mental health, it’s a short fad that lasts on people’s newsfeed for a day and disappears the next. 

In the past, whenever I’ve openly criticized the campaign, I’m always met with the same response: even though the campaign is only one day, it’s a good start to ending the stigma surrounding mental health and the monetary contribution to mental health initiatives is much needed in Canada. 

I can appreciate and even applaud Bell for the amount of money that they’ve contributed to the CAMH Foundation, Kids Help Phone, Brain Canada and many more well-deserving companies. These groups help increase mental health resources in Canada, educate Canadians about mental health and help end the stigma surrounding mental health. 

However, I believe that Bell Let’s Talk has more negative impacts on those suffering from mental illness and the discourse surrounding mental health than positive.

So Bell, let’s talk.

Bell Let’s Talk contributes to the “slacktivism” of our generation. People feel that they are making real changes by tweeting or sharing a Facebook post. The reality is that they aren’t. People may be making a monetary contribution to mental health initiatives when participating in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, but they aren’t actually ending the stigma surrounding mental health. 

The stigma around mental health will never cease to exist until people are educated about mental health. A quick share of a Facebook post or tweet with the #BellLetsTalk raises five cents, but it doesn’t teach Canadians about mental illnesses or mental health resources. 

The most upsetting part about the campaign is that Bell is using mental health as a marketing tool. I cringe at every post I see about Bell Let’s Talk because I feel that Bell is using my mental illness — as well as the mental illnesses of one in four Canadians — as a marketing strategy. 

I’m sick of my peers telling me that these feelings aren’t warranted because of the monetary contributions the campaign makes and the discussion it generates about mental health. If Bell was truly committed to ending the stigma surrounding mental health, they would donate a portion of all their sales to mental health initiatives in Canada, not just five cents from every tweet, text, or Facebook post one day a year. The reason they don’t is because Bell Let’s Talk isn’t a mental health campaign; it’s a marketing campaign. 

Battling mental illness isn’t a simple, one-time event. And any responsible effort to educate people shouldn’t be either. It requires ongoing dialogue. 

Mental health stigma won’t end with Bell Let’s Talk Day. We need to talk every day. 

Elisha Corbett is a fourth-year Political Studies major.

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