Last week Bell Let’s Talk dominated the airwaves — both the old-fashioned radio sort and modern-day wireless ones.
By sharing messages, stories and connections, the campaign raised almost $7 million for mental health services in Canada, almost half a million more than last year’s total.
The company’s initiative to raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental illness has been successful, perhaps even more than first anticipated.
It’s an easy action for people to take on: share or repost tweets, Facebook posts, text messages and the like using the #bellletstalk hashtag. Bell forks over cash for every post, and we can share the conversation from the comfort of our homes, offices, playgrounds, rinks.
It reminds me of a fundraiser one group launched several years ago. A donation to the organization netted you a home movie pass, a box of popcorn and other tasty treats. The clever thing about this fundraiser was that it was roughly one quarter of the cost a gala ticket would run you (and that’s not counting the cost of fancy clothes, perhaps a hair appointment, a manicure and other activities needed to make one gala-ready).
This is not a passive activity; people were, and still are, talking about their experience with mental illness, their loved one’s experiences, or those of their friends or co-workers.
Cash for tweets, texts and shares is simple enough. More impressive though are the stories people are exchanging about why they are participating. This is not a passive activity; people were, and still are, talking about their experience with mental illness, their loved one’s experiences, or those of their friends or co-workers.
It’s a far cry from 10 years ago, and I have read and see enough over the decades to know we have taken some significant steps forward. Back in the early 2000s, personal blogs offered posts in which the bloggers shared some aspect of their lives. Frequently anonymous, the blogs offered many people a window on worlds too often shuttered to public scrutiny because of stigma and shame.
Some of these blogs talked about mental illness; others spoke about infertility, addiction, intimate partner violence, parenting struggles, disabilities and self-worth. Some bloggers were able to create shared spaces where readers wrote about their own experiences and how the posts of these nom de keyboards resonated with them.
The advent of wider social networks has meant more people are claiming the space to talk about what it means to live with a mental illness or to struggle with maintaining mental wellness.
More often, outside of Bell’s campaign, I am seeing people drawing strength and support from their connections and letting their friends and family know when they need help. And I am seeing people give back and hold each other up.
There’s no doubt we need to critique our public systems for their flaws.
We also need to critique Bell itself for not always following what it tells us to do regarding challenging stigma. After all, it was only two months ago that Bell made headlines across the country for the stress its employees were feeling in the face of what many called unrealistic sales targets.
At the time, I wondered if there would be any negative effects on Bell’s fundraising. The financial reports clearly show there was not.
Perhaps the public will need more time to shift gears and bring closer scrutiny to Bell’s workplace practices. Or maybe, people are happy that money is going to mental health after years of seeing money go to other health priorities and issues.
You can always sell tickets to a breast cancer fundraiser or give a crisp $20 to heart health or dump a bucket of ice for ALS. Mental illness and the people who live with the challenges poor mental health can bring have been treated differently and less positively for a long time.
Each year around this time, when it sometimes seems like the days are so dark they’ll never be bright again, friends and colleagues shine a light on mental health and make it the focus of all our conversations, not just theirs.
A shared load is always lighter.
Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living in St. John’s. She was a volunteer with the CMHA from 1997 to 2006 and still makes mental health advocacy a priority.