Hold the phone on accepting Bell Let’s Talk at face value

Photo: 
If a company touts its success starting conversations about mental health, it should ensure its other, quieter initiatives don’t simultaneously undo that good work.
 
This is the case with Bell Canada’s most recognized corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaign. Bell Let’s Talk is an awareness campaign designed to “break the silence around mental illness and support mental health all across Canada.”
 
Through this annual campaign at the end of January, Bell purports to want to bolster conversation about mental health and illness—but the company is complicit in silencing communication between low-income Ontario inmates and their loved ones.
 
Hypocritically, Bell holds the contract for Ontario’s prison phone system, whose exorbitant prices and inaccessibility bar thousands of inmates from communicating with friends and family while incarcerated. 
 
Profiting off prisoners’ desires to speak to their loved ones isn’t right, particularly when you consider the mental health implications of that contract.
 
Social connection is essential to promoting mental health. Depriving inmates—who may be from low-income families—the ability to communicate with those they love facilitates the poor mental health conditions pervading the prison system.
 
Bell has held the contract with Ontario since 2013, despite launching its Bell Let’s Talk campaign in 2011. 
 
Through its prison phone contract, Bell is complicit in dehumanizing Ontario inmates while acting like a champion for mental health.
 
It’s incumbent on the Ministry of the Solicitor General to ensure the company’s contract doesn’t exploit inmates and their loved ones. But scenarios like this one should also remind consumers that we should examine corporate involvement in social advocacy closely before we throw our support behind companies and their initiatives.
 
Bell could have achieved the same level of outreach without attaching their name to the campaign. Instead, in doing so, the company has effectively—and hypocritically—harnessed its social activism as free marketing.
 
There’s no harm in texting or tweeting for Bell Let’s Talk Day. It spreads awareness about mental health and facilitates donation to an important cause. 
 
However, there are non-profit organizations doing equally as much, or more impactful work to combat the stigma surrounding mental health and illness that deserve our support—and these organizations aren’t complicit in exacerbating the unjust conditions of Ontario prisons. These non-profits may not have the same marketing capabilities as Bell, but they deserve our support.
 
Bell’s conflicted role in mental health advocacy detracts from important dialogue. 
 
The conversation surrounding Bell Let’s Talk must, unfortunately, do more than seek to normalize mental illness. To truly forge change, our broader social conversation should address Bell’s hypocrisy in balancing its CSR with its profits from prisoners and their families.
 
 

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.