The stigma around Bell Let’s Talk Day highlights the problem around mental health

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Bell Let’s Talk Day, known since its launch in 2011, is a day to recognize, destigmatize and raise funds for mental health organizations in Canada. As the day comes around each year in January, debates always seem to arise on whether this day adds any real value to the mental health cause.

Bell Let’s Talk addresses four pillars dedicated to moving mental health awareness forward in Canada: defeating stigma, improving access to mental health care, supporting research, and promoting a mentally healthy workplace. (Bell Let’s Talk/LetsTalk.Bell.ca)

Common arguments include that it’s just a way to promote Bell Canada as a telecommunications company, that it occurring only once a year does not create a lasting impact, that its effects on talking about mental health don’t last, and that it overall is not enough to create any real change.

Though it’s easy to be cynical, Bell Let’s Talk Day has made huge strides in the conversation around mental health, whether it’s always obvious or not. Since its inception, the cause has raised over $100 million for mental health.

There can be no doubt that such a large amount of money has benefitted Canadians, being used to invest in various mental health organizations and programs nationwide. Examples of those benefitting from the funds includes New Brunwick’s own KV Oasis youth centre, La Fondation de Vie psychiatric departments in Quebec, and the William Osler Health System in Ontario for their major depression treatment programs.

These are just a handful of the groups that receive funding from Bell Let’s Talk, but there are many others from all around the country. To learn more about the initiatives this campaign has helped, you can visit the fundraiser’s website.

Bell Let’s Talk took place on January 29 this year, and its theme was “Mental health: every action counts”. (Bell Let’s Talk/Facebook)

Bell Let’s Talk has also generated over one billion interactions since it started in 2011, including Instagram and Facebook posts, video views, tweets, snaps, texts and calls made through Bell phones. Just think about how many people would have been exposed to the conversation from all those posts.

Its influence has extended beyond your average person, with the hashtag being used by celebrities such as William Shatner, Celine Dion, and even Ellen Degeneres. This has increased the impact to include other countries outside of Canada, and therefore spurring the mental health conversation even further.

The role that celebrities play in inspiring the population must be considered, as many would be more apt to listen to someone that they admire speak about mental health than a stranger. It can be argued that the logic commonly used is that if someone so admirable cares about this cause, then it must be important.

The impact of hearing people’s personal stories is also significant. As the day is called Bell Let’s Talk Day, many people on this day post or speak about their personal experiences with mental health struggles and illness. Hearing such a personal story from those we love and care about has a huge effect.

It opens people’s eyes to the mental health issues around them and normalizes them at the same time, while also reinforcing the commonality of such issues, and how important they are to address.

So yes, maybe it can be argued that Bell’s main goal is self-promotion through this initiative. After all, they are a for-profit organization.

They’re not the only company that’s ever started a fundraiser or donated to a cause for similar reasons, but should we dismiss their positive impacts because of the perceived motives? Isn’t it worth it considering the massive benefits we’ve incurred from it?

It’s certainly true that having one day a year to talk about mental health isn’t enough, but the conversation has to start somewhere.

This day is a perfect way to open the door to the topic. It is still our responsibility to continue the conversation after the day is done and to build off of the progress created by Bell.

Bell Let’s Talk day will hopefully continue for years to come whether some people like it or not, and therefore be used as intended: to get the conversation started on mental health, and to destigmatize and normalize the mental health issues that Canadians go through every single day.