Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, an initiative created by the Canadian telecommunications and media company Bell. This day is designed to break the silence around mental illness and support mental health all across Canada.
On Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 25, 2017, Bell will raise money to contribute towards mental health initiatives in Canada, by counting every text and call, as well as tweet and Instagram post, with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk or each Facebook video view and use of their Snapchat geofilter. They will donate 5 cents for every action.
A lot of people criticize Bell Let’s Talk Day for tying a corporation into a cause as a way to promote Bell’s services, or as a publicity stunt. Or criticizing it as a day of all talk and no action. However, the money that Bell raises on that day and from other initiatives, does go a long way to contributing to mental health care in our community. In the past few weeks, I have read countless articles about different programs and resources funded by Bell Let’s Talk. They are having a real impact. This includes providing care and access to support services, as well as investing in critical research.
But we need to see beyond the tangible impact to the real contributions that Bell Let’s Talk makes to erasing the stigma around mental illness. I have participated in Bell Let’s Talk for the past few years and I have seen the most incredible conversations online around the #bellletstalk hashtag. People have truly felt more comfortable opening up and sharing their stories. Personally, I feel less alone after seeing the testimonials of the various celebrity spokespeople. Seriously, Michael Landsberg and Clara Hughes are my heroes. It is so amazing to see that people can still be successful and impactful while living with a mental illness. That they can live a life full of meaning despite their illness or perhaps because of it. I also feel less alone when I see millions of tweets from ordinary individuals who are sharing their personal experiences in brief 140 character snippets. I think it’s incredible that one company can inspire this level of conversation. The posts paint a picture of mental illness that is diverse, beautiful, ugly, fragile, strong, messy and imperfect. They show the highs and lows of human emotion and the human experience. They show people who may feel broken but are resilient, passionate and powerful. The conversation that arises from their individual posts grows into one living, breathing organism that shapes a national outlook on something that is typically seen as an individual problem and makes it about all Canadians.
Maybe I am naive, but Bell Let’s Talk makes me feel like I matter to my fellow citizens. That they care that I have bipolar disorder and that it has been hard for me to get out of bed every morning for the past few weeks. That I spend my day fighting physical symptoms of anxiety and depression, like chest pain and racing thoughts. That I waste hours beating myself up with negative self-talk and that my thoughts are so intrusive that I can’t focus or function. This conversation makes me feel a part of something larger, a part of a movement.
Why is this conversation important? Because we can normalize mental illness and show people who might not understand what it is like to live with one. Why? This might increase their empathy and reduce the discrimination that people face in the workplace, in their relationships, even at the doctor. If we can decrease the stigma and discrimination, more people will be likely to seek help early on, before their symptoms get worse and they reach a crisis. This type of conversation can literally save lives. I’ve seen countless examples of people who feel isolated, but through the power of the internet, can make meaningful connections with people that truly understand them.
Of course, we need to go beyond the conversation today to make lasting, meaningful change. We need to make every day like Bell Let’s Talk Day. We need to flood the internet with stories and anecdotes and evidence-based information. We need to work with our governments to increase access to important healthcare resources to treat mental illness. For those of you who are fellow Canadians, I recently watched a video that Trudeau posted on his Facebook page, where he said that the federal government is providing $5 billion over the next few years for mental health initiatives. This is fantastic news. Now, how can that money be spent effectively? We need the voices of people on the front line (researchers, social workers, counsellors, doctors) as well as those impacted (people with mental illness) to contribute their expertise. This includes ensuring that mental healthcare addresses themes of intersectionality, and specifically addresses the needs of people of colour, people living in poverty, people in the LGBTQ community and people with co-morbidities such as physical disability or chronic illness, among other marginalized groups. We also need to make sure not to gloss over the terrifying and shitty experiences of people with mental illness. There isn’t always a happy recovery story for every individual – and we need to acknowledge that. We also need to acknowledge that those who haven’t recovered or aren’t “high-functioning” (I’ve decided I hate that term, but that’s for another blog), aren’t weak. They are sick and just haven’t found the right treatment yet. We need to emphasize that this isn’t their fault, but a failure on society to take care of them and their needs.
Bell Let’s Talk Day is just one example of a movement that allows this type of critical dialogue to take place in one unified setting. I’m confident that I will leave today inspired and with new ideas of how I can take my own channel, Slay Girl Society, and make a difference beyond writing three blog articles a week. Because I want to open this up and make a bigger impact than my primary goal of education and awareness. I’m not sure what that means right now, but I am sure through more open and honest dialogue, I can figure it out.
What are some of your ideas of how we can improve mental health care? In Canada, in the U.S or elsewhere on this magnificent planet? Comment below with your thoughts!
Here are some interesting videos from the Bell Let’s Talk Campaign that I enjoyed. Take a look!