Bell Let's Talk Day: Let's Talk About It

To Whom It May Concern:

Currently, you might be sitting down, morning coffee or tea in hand, excited for a good news article or entertainment piece. You might be riding the bus home, ready to delve into your daily Her Campus dosage. Or you could have just stumbled upon this as you were aimlessly scrolling through Facebook. Whatever it may be, I ask you to pause and think about something before you proceed. On January 30th, 2019, Canadians across the country participated in Bell Let’s Talk Day. In those 24 hours, how many Instagram stories featuring the “Bell Let’s Talk Day” promotional video did you see? How many hashtags posted beneath an unrelated selfie or nature scene graced your feed? How many vulnerable paragraphs concluding with a phrase along the lines of “reach out and talk” did you read?

Now that you’ve thought about these numbers, I have one more question for you: have you thought about it since? Did that video leave any lingering urge to take action? Did that hashtag stay with you as you carried on your day? Did that story push you to open up with your parents, family, and friends about your own mental health? You might have seen 500 different posts, thousands of the same hashtag and 20 various videos but here are some real numbers for you; in Canada 1 out of every 5 will suffer from a mental illness. Two-thirds of these people will never seek help for themselves. These numbers are real. Mental health is real. Mental illness is real. We as a society must remember this as we tap through awareness campaign after awareness campaign, pushing aside the fact that these hashtags and videos are not real. Now, hear me out.

When I was given this assignment, I grappled with how I was going tackle this topic due to my own inner conflict and battling opinions. Awareness is a fundamental aspect of destigmatizing mental health. That is fact, pure and simple. But how much can “awareness” change our impression of mental illness in society? Here, I come to a crossroads; does the benefit of increased awareness and social acceptance outweigh lack of action that continues to persist when it comes to dealing with the rapid rise of mental illness in this country. A leader of mental wellbeing at UBC spoke to me and commented on the fact that Bell Let’s Talk Day is only 1 out of 365 days. Yes, it is a day that generates both financial support to initiatives across the country (ask 99% of the population what these initiatives actually do, and I would hedge a bet they aren’t actually aware) and a mass social awareness surrounding mental health but what about those other 364 days of the year? On those days, who are the ones that are still talking about their mental health? Coping with a mental illness is a 24/7, 365 battle. It is not a 24-hour blip that can be resolved by talking… about the importance… of talking. My source also commented on the fact that campaigns such as these operate as gimmicks rather than actual solutions. So, what does this all mean? Is “Bell Let’s Talk Day” a bad thing? In my opinion, no. Bell Let’s Talk day has made mental health something that, at least one day out of the year, hundreds of thousands of Canadians are thinking about.

According to the Bell Let’s Talk day initiative page, 87% of Canadians are more aware of the prevalence of mental illness since Bell Let’s Talk Day began in 2011. In 2019, $100,695,763.75 was donated to mental health initiatives across the country and in total 1,208,040 efforts were supported through the proceeds. These statistics are genuinely inspiring. Campaigns such as Bell Let’s Talk have helped so many individuals feel comfortable in speaking up and realizing that it is okay to suffer from a mental illness and NOT something to be ashamed of. This being said, we as a society need to stop acting as though awareness equals solutions. As Dean Burnett articulated in his 2017 Gaudian article, “having an abstract awareness of mental health issues does not automatically translate to a willingness or ability to do anything about them.” So, think back to all those videos you watched and all those stories you read and find something, just one thing, that triggers that willingness ACTUALLY to take action and remember that to those struggling with their mental health, those other 364 days matter just as much.