I have mixed feelings about Bell’s Let’s Talk program. I am well aware that it is, in many ways, an extremely positive voice that raises awareness about mental health issues and is intended to help diminish the stigma people with mental illnesses face. I know that on January 25, Bell will donate 5 cents to mental health initiatives around the country for every tweet or Facebook post, etc. The almost $80 million that the program has raised since it’s inception is no small feat, and the money has been used for various initiatives in different communities, and has provided some very positive results.
It has support from various Canadian celebrities, such as Clara Hughes, Howie Mandel, Mary Walsh and Michael Landsberg. There is no doubt that their voices, and those of many others, have helped shine a new light on mental health issues and have helped in some ways to diminish the stigma of mental illness. Even the original Captain Kirk, William Shatner, and the young man from Stratford so many love to hate, Justin Bieber, have helped raised awareness among their fans by encouraging people to tweet and help raise the extremely helpful and necessary funds.
Bell’s “Let’s Talk” program has helped people face their illness(es), encouraging many to no longer suffer alone and in silence. It has given many people the courage to start to talk openly about their struggles, to seek the help they so desperately need. It has shone a light on the stark reality that 1 in 5 Canadians suffer from mental illness and far too many people, especially Canadian youth, do not get the help they need.
So, considering all its positives, why do I say that I have mixed feelings about it? Well, it is, quite simply, because of the fact that it seems very “in vogue” to be a part of it. I see people who seemingly care on January 25th, but show that they actually don’t on January 26th. January 25 is one day. 24 hours. Now, I have heard of the 24 hour flu, but not the 24 hour mental illness. For many of us, they are a lifetime thing, and the attention afforded these diseases needs to be longer lasting. We need people caring about those fighting to be considered “normal” at all times. We need people to be mindful and aware of others who might be reaching out for help no matter what day it may be.
It’s all well and good to submit to the fad of changing your profile picture on Facebook to be framed by “Bell Let’s Talk”, but it is entirely another thing to do more than that. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of seeing people change their picture, saying all the right things to others about how much they want to help and how terrible it must be to face it, but ignore anyone who is close to them who is battling mental illness. Even worse is seeing people present to others a caring face while actually turning their backs on those supposedly closest to them. You cannot claim to be an advocate of mental health and trying to help when you give more to a stranger than you do your friend, child, sibling, or spouse. Caring for anonymous strangers while turning your back on those who may be begging for you to be there for them isn’t worthy of praise.
I’m grateful for initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk because it has raised awareness and has helped a lot of people, but I’m wary of the “it’s fashionable to care today” approach so many people seem to have. I may need a shoulder in March or April or June or August or October just as much as I may need one on January 25th. In fact, it is likely that I will need it more at those other times, when the spotlight isn’t on the diseases that I am battling hard to overcome. When the glare of the spotlights has faded and the “good deed” of being there for someone battling depression or anxiety, etc. doesn’t garner praise and recognition from others so readily, I’m still likely to need an ear or a shoulder.
So, sure, “Let’s Talk” on January 25th and raise money to help people and communities struggling with these issues, but let’s keep talking the rest of the year, too, when you aren’t raising 5 cents every time you send a tweet, when it isn’t the fashionable thing to do on that day. Let’s keep talking so that people don’t just feel like they are cared for on that one day.