Editorial: #BellLetsTalk about finding a real solution to mental health

Bell Let's Talk was held last week for the seventh year in a row but like years before that, it stopped there.

Last Wednesday, Canada celebrated Bell Let’s Talk for the seventh year in a row, opening up channels for people to discuss mental health issues for years to come and the conversation continued throughout the days after, right?

Wrong. It was just one day. One day, just like last year and the five years before that.

Forgive this writer for being overly cynical, but the movement created by Bell’s campaign to improve mental health in Canada through eliminating the stigma surrounding the illness becomes increasingly hollow each year.

For those unaware, Bell Let’s Talk is a campaign created by Bell Media—yes the same company you pay your hundreds of dollars to each month for your cable and phone bills—that donates 5 cents to mental health initiatives for each time you use #BellLetsTalk in your posts on social media or, if you’re a Bell customer, each text message you send to another Bell customer.

The public motive behind it is noble and commendable . Millions of Canadians are struggling in silence across the country, afraid to admit that there’s something wrong with them, so the fact that a company is not only willing to promote talking about mental health for one day but is willing to commit millions of dollars is a big deal.

Looked at more closely though and you’re quickly able to see it for the marketing initiative it really is along with the band-aid solution it presents to one of Canada’s most pressing problems.

To start with, the Bell Let’s Talk movement implicitly implies that the most pressing issue with mental health in Canada is Canadians’ willingness to talk about it and defeat the stigma. Sure, the stigma surrounding mental health is a challenge for the 20 per cent of Canadians who will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, but what about those who are looking to get help from said illness?

You may seek the help of a psychiatrist, a service covered by Medicare, but the average wait for the appointment can be months or years before you actually get the services you need. If you’re in desperate immediate need of help, you can seek the help of a psychologist or social worker privately but those services won’t be covered by Medicare, meaning that you’re footing an approximate $125 bill per hour out of your own pocket. It’s why only 20 per cent of the children who need mental health services in Canada actually receive them.

Your pocketbook isn’t the only hurdle you have to overcome to get the help you need in Canada either. While I’m sure there are countless employers across the country who would be willing to allow their employees to get the time off they need to be healthy, it certainly isn’t for everyone especially those relying on an hourly wage to put food on the table.

If you think all employers would give this right to their employees, look no further than Bell Media themselves who have been caught up lately with the untimely firing of a Grand Falls radio host. Maria McLean, an afternoon radio host at K93 FM in Grand Falls, was recently fired from her job just an hour after she provided her supervisor with a doctor’s note stating that she needed two weeks off work to adjust to the medication she was receiving to treat her mental illness.

I’m sure Bell wouldn’t be open to saying her mental illness was what cost her her job, but this isn’t the first time the media conglomerate has been in hot water over its practices with employees suffering from mental health issues.

But the real reason Bell Let’s Talk doesn’t work as an avenue for eradicating Canada’s mental health crisis is the same reason that collecting food donations doesn’t solve world hunger. It’s a band-aid solution. Does providing canned goods to the homeless help them survive? Sure. Does reminding someone struggling with depression that it’s okay to talk about it help? No doubt.

But what about what’s next? What comes after that reminder is gone? Bell Let’s Talk is a fantastic idea to start a conversation and it may even enact change for thousands of people who thought no one cared and they didn’t have a voice.

At the end of the day though, it hasn’t become any easier for those suffering—silent or not—to access the mental health services they need in this country.

For that type of change, people in power sitting in legislative assemblies in Ottawa, Victoria and other capitals across the country have to take notice. And yes, more notice than Justin Trudeau’s heavily politicized tweet, “I’m seeing huge numbers of RTs [retweets] on everyone’s #BellLetsTalk posts today. Let’s keep talking! Time to end the stigma around mental health.”

If you want something to talk about, Let’s Talk About that.