How #BellLetsTalk is both problematic and vital

If you’ve been on social media this morning, you no doubt have discovered that it’s #BellLetsTalk Day in Canada. An initiative started several years ago, #BellLetsTalk aims to open up conversations about mental health with the promise that every tweet or post using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk on social media will garner a donation of $0.05 from Bell Canada. But is this campaign really about mental health or just a crowd-sourced advertising campaign for Bell Canada?

The cynic in me says that #BellLetsTalk is not a purely altruistic move by Bell but rather a savvy advertising campaign: less let’s talk about mental health and more let’s talk about Bell Canada helping the mentally ill. How much money has Bell poured into the national multi-platform advertising campaign? Would it not have been just as affective to simply direct that money to organizations doing good work around the country in the field of mental health? A similar problem is that the promise of donation-per-tweet has caused us to forget the objective of this campaign, as many aim to drive up the fundraising total by spamming the hashtag whenever and however possible. While these spammers’ intentions are good, it misses the whole point of the campaign (getting people to talk about mental health) and makes #BellLetsTalk more of a slacktivist fundraising campaign, engaging only insofar as typing out the hashtag or clicking a few retweets.

Photo of Clara Hughes on her cell phone promoting #LetsTalk day on January 28th
Take time today, and every day, to talk about mental health

Despite this criticism, #BellLetsTalk is a vital campaign that we should all embrace because it opens up a space for us to talk about mental health and wellness. For starters, the Bell Let’s Talk website is actually a phenomenally useful resource, with tons of information about mental health, mental health organizations, and how we can help. What’s more, the core objective of the campaign is a worthwhile goal — to push back against our active avoidance of mental illness and shed light on an issue that all too often remains in the dark. By encouraging the flooding our social streams, #BellLetsTalk forces us to think about mental illness, whether we engage with the hashtag or not. Mental illness, and the stigma attached, is something that we often avoid, but on #BellLetsTalk day we are forced to engage. This campaign helps beat back the shame associated with asking for help because it shows just how common mental illness is, opening up a space to share personal stories about mental illness, recovery and health with our families and friends. We all have stories, personal or tangental, about struggles with things like depression, anxiety, or suicide and perhaps rather than being things that isolate us they could be things that draw us together. That unite us. This campaign helps prove that mental illness is something we should all encounter, something we have in common, and something that we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss (or, more importantly, ask for help). #BellLetsTalk shows that we needn’t suffer in silence or isolation and that mental illness does not make us less human.

But we need to pick up where Bell Canada leaves us today. Let’s not just take today to talk and think about mental health; the project of mental health in Canada cannot be completed in one day. Let’s keep talking about it, about those who struggle and how we can help. Let’s keep talking about our common experiences with mental illness and opening up space for those to share their experiences and concerns. And, last but not least, let’s keep talking about the organizations who are working on mental health every day of the year.

By Jeffrey Preston

Born with a rare neuromuscular myopathy, Jeff has spent his life dedicated to advocating for himself and others with disabilities. With a PhD in Media Studies from Western University, Jeff's research focuses on the representation of disability in popular and digital culture. Jeff is currently an Assistant Professor of Disability Studies at King's University College @ Western University in London, ON.

5 replies on “How #BellLetsTalk is both problematic and vital”

Bell Let’s Talk YouTube testimonials are not closed captioned. The “automatic captions” available only on SOME of the videos are not only “a little bit inaccurate”. They are incomprehensible.

If Bell really want to promote communication, they need to make it accessible. Believe me, Bell knows deaf people exist.

This has been a problem going back to Year 1 of this campaign, and has been brought to their attention each and every year, and they have not responded in any way, including fixing the problem, other than now having captions on the TV spots which were not there in the past.

When I read Bell: “Let’s Talk”, I hear “talk amongst yourselves. Nobody’s listening.” I don’t think that is the right message for what ails the problem society has with accommodating mental illness, and it for sure isn’t the right message for accessibility in general.

For all the good conversations that may happen around the “special day of talking”, don’t discount how painful it is for deaf people who may have mental health struggles and have that compounded by Bell’s recalcitrance to afford them equal ability to engage in the conversation. Should we celebrate Bell for promoting a dialogue of 96% of the population? Not when they have the means at their disposal to involve 100% and CHOOSE not to use them.

That’s really, really disappointing that the campaign hasn’t been captioned on YouTube. I totally get why there is resistance to physical accessibility because of cost, etc, but communication access (whether it’s captioning, ASL translation, braille, large print, etc) adds minimal cost/effort. Seriously!

Mental health becomes even more complicated when you begin folding other disabilities into the mix, especially when the medical establishment so often assume it is the disability that is causing the depression, anxiety, etc. I absolutely understand people who are deaf, cannot walk, etc who refuse to see a psychologist because they assume the response will simply be “Oh, you’re sad because you can’t hear. That’s the problem!”. That type of ableist thinking isn’t helping anyone.