January 25th, 2017 marks the annual mental health awareness event, known as Bell Let’s Talk day. For those of you who have been living under a rock (or possibly outside Canada), Bell Mobility, primarily a cellphone service provider, agrees to donate $0.05 towards mental health initiatives for every tweet with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. Last year, the event raised over $63 million. Since it’s inception, the campaign has been met with more and more criticism for a number of reasons, from some believing it makes financial gains over exploiting a very serious cause, to others questioning the validity of “cause marketing”, to more serious allegations that the money supports questionable causes.
Here’s my (potentially controversial) opinion: at it’s core, Bell Let’s Talk has done more good than harm. As someone who has often looked at cases of cause marketing or social conscious business in school and remarked on how “brilliant” or “game-changing” they are, I can see I may be biased. However, I really do believe that the campaign has ultimately made great changes to the way Canadians view and perceive mental health. This does not mean that our work is done, it’s far from that, but it’s a small, small step in the right direction. Here are some issues people have with Bell Let’s Talk, with my respectful rebuttal.
Issue 1: This is all a marketing campaign, and businesses shouldn’t benefit off of causes.
I agree with this, and don’t believe a business should have the right to exploit minorities or marginalized groups, but the campaign has made talking about mental health much more accessible than 5 years ago. There’s no doubt that the marketing payoff for this campaign has been astronomical at all, however, I struggle to see why that’s such a bad thing. Milton Friedman’s (granted, drastic) view of business was that it’s sole purpose is to generate profits. Wouldn’t you rather see company’s use marketing tactics that spread good in the world as well? Isn’t a campaign focused on mental health awareness much better than a campaign that over sexualizes women or has little to no meaning? Can’t we say it’s a win-win that a business is able to create positive change and market their products or services? Why do we have to discount the positive impact by saying it’s just for marketing. Obviously the business needs to have some way of increasing their bottom line with everything they do.
Issue 2: We can’t just talk about mental health one day a year.
Yes, yes, yes, 100% agree to this. However, having Bell Let’s Talk day is one more day that people think about mental health than 5 years ago. At it’s worst, people see mental health talk spamming their news feed and do nothing about it. Whether people engage in the campaign to earn that $0.05 donation is irrelevant – the point is talking. I see the money as icing on the cake. People need to think about mental health everyday. I also need to drink more water, eat fruits and veggies, and exercise everyday. Chances are, it’s not going to happen instantly. Changing the way people think and view things they’ve never thought of before doesn’t happen overnight. So yes, Bell Let’s Talk is only one day, but it can inspire lasting change. At an absolute minimum, we can agree that Bell Let’s Talk is a catalyst for conversations and change. Here’s an example: Surviving by Living was started after Bell Let’s Talk. I felt one day wasn’t enough, one tweet wasn’t enough, so I started to blog about my mental health. I don’t think I would have done that without seeing how many people tweeted in support of talking more.
Issue 3: People jump on this “bandwagon” and then forget about it.
DUDE. MENTAL HEALTH IS A BANDWAGON THAT’S NOW “COOL” TO JUMP ON?! HELL YES. I’LL TAKE IT. Okay but seriously, mental health and illness has been in a long term relationship with shame, and it’s kind of an awesome step that people are now thinking it makes them cooler to care, even if it’s just one day. Ultimately, we need to do a lot more than tweet once a year…but it’s a start. I don’t want this to let us be complacent by feeling like we did our part because we tweeted one time. However, I don’t want to get too caught up in how much more there is to do without recognizing the steps we’ve taken. Because here’s the thing: for one day a year, I see people who have no experience with mental illness, or who have never spoken about mental health, say that they care, and that it’s important. For one day a year, what I fight every day for isn’t stigmatized as much as it usually is. I get to do the virtual equivalent of shout from the rooftops and be celebrated for it, instead of judged. That one day is a glimmer of hope that change is real, and that the future can be better. And if that doesn’t make this campaign worth it, I don’t know what will.
Here’s the tl;dr. Bell Let’s Talk isn’t perfect. Most things to do with change aren’t. Bell Let’s Talk may not even have the purest of intentions, but it’s still important. Something not being perfect isn’t reason enough to discount it completely, and we shouldn’t be blind to the great strides it’s made so far, both from a financial perspective, as well as an engagement perspective.
We still have a lot of work to do, so on January 25th, let’s talk. And then let’s keep talking, because talking saves lives.
Keep Surviving by Living.