Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let's Talk

All right, Bell Canada. You've launched your #BellLetsTalk campaign for the fifth year in a row, promising to donate five cents from every call and text made today from a Bell Canada-serviced phone, and every tweet and Facebook post that includes #BellLetsTalk. It's a noble idea, and you claim you've raised over 67 million dollars in support of Canadian mental health. You've got Howie Mandel (Team OCD), Clara Hughes (Team Depression) and Michel Mpambara (Team Bi-Polar) lending their images and voices to the campaign, and it's kind of cool to see a big conglomerate taking on the issue of mental health. It's not easy, like cancer or HIV, and it's not sexy.

Mental illness can be a big, thorny problem, and it takes many forms. Ranging from the homeless schizophrenic who scares people at the local Shopper's Drug Mart, to the young mother who copes with her post-partum depression by drinking too many Baileys and ice after the baby goes to bed. It can be long-term and lingering, like alcoholism; it can be acute, like psychosis. It is often insidious and difficult to recognize.

Many of the people I follow on Twitter are upset that the Let's Talk campaign has found a corporate sponsor in Bell, and I can't say I blame them. Bell isn't known for its tender touch when it comes to customer service. And besides, the tweeters say, shouldn't the onus for raising awareness fall to governments? Shouldn't it be part of school curricula? Shouldn't this be more than a day? Shouldn't it already be de-stigmatized?


But it's not.

If Bell has decided to take on mental health, then y'know what? I don't mind. One in five Canadians will have a mental illness at some point, and two-thirds of the people who suffer mental health issues don't get help - they don't recognize themselves in the stories, or they're afraid, or they're trapped in the wild arms of their illness and can't get out. There are lots of big and small agencies that serve those folks, or try to, but they often lack the capacity to really fund-raise or raise awareness. When I think of mental healthcare providers, I usually think of CAMH, Toronto's big local name. But there are dozens of other agencies in the 416 alone. Some of them focus children and teens, some of them focus on emergency services, some of them focus on long-term care and rehabilitation. All of them are doing important, valuable work.

Maybe it's not fair that Bell's grants range from $5K to $50K. That's not a lot, I know. In an ideal world, we'd be able to throw unlimited money at depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, and the myriad other internal challenges. And maybe $5K is enough to start a yoga program for people with bi-polar disorder. You never really know.

I hate Emily, Bell's voice-activated automaton, as much as the next frustrated 310-BELL caller. But I actually kind of have to give it to Bell: the campaign does kind of, sort of, maybe open up a safe space for people to talk about their own struggles with mental illness. These diagnoses are tough. It's entirely possible to look normal from the outside. But when I talk about those years when I drank too much, and when I binge-ate and purged, and when I could.not.get.out.of.bed, I can stick a little hashtag on there. I can talk about my business and raise fifteen or twenty cents for the cause. It's not just the money. It's the billboards. It's the radio ads. It's the fact that we're talking about mental health, and talking about how we talk about mental health. That's not so crazy, is it?

Image via Textually