Bell Let's Talk
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Bell Let’s Talk (French: Bell Cause pour la cause) is the single largest corporate commitment to mental health in Canada. Originally a five-year, $50 million program to help create a stigma-free Canada and drive action in mental health care, research, and the workplace, Bell Let’s Talk was renewed in 2015 for another 5 years with a target of raising Bell’s commitment to at least $100 million. It is also an awareness campaign created by the Canadian telecommunications company Bell Canada to raise awareness and combat stigma surrounding mental illness in Canada. The corporate social responsibility initiative encourages use of various platforms in including social media to engage individuals with the goal of increasing awareness of mental illness and reducing stigma. The most prominent part of the initiative is “Bell Let’s Talk Day,” an annual campaign where the corporation donates money to mental health funds based on messages of support sent that day, such as the number of SMS messages sent on their cellular network, and social media posts and shares including their branded hashtags #bellletstalk or, its Canadian French equivalent, #bellcause.
|Bell Let's Talk|
Bell Cause pour la cause
The Logo of the Bell Let's Talk Program
|Next event||January 29, 2020|
|Organized by||Bell Canada|
Since its founding in 2010, the campaign has committed over $100 million to mental health in Canada with over 1 billion interactions registered across various forms of communications-based media. According to Twitter, "the #BellLetsTalk hashtag was the most used Canadian hashtag of 2018 on Twitter". The program has received praise for being the first corporate campaign to acknowledge the stigma surrounding mental health, although it has also been criticized for the alleged "corporatization of mental health".
The Bell Let’s Talk initiative began with the goal of contributing $50 million to mental health programs around Canada over five years. The campaign began with a donation of one million CAD to the Royal Ottawa Hospital’s Telemedicine program. George Cope, the then-new CEO of Bell Canada, desired a new corporate social responsibility program for the company, as the competitors at Telus had recently adopted the cause of breast cancer. The program was designed with a marketing motive in mind; the topic of mental health was chosen largely because it was uncharted territory in the corporate sponsorship area and was sure to be influential.
Mary Deacon was brought on as Chair of the new program at the beginning. She had 25 years of experience campaigning for mental health issues, serving 10 of those years as the president of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. There, she spent much of her time searching for brand partners to support their mental health initiatives. At a volunteer event for the centre, she met Cope, who was then working as the Bell’s president. Cope would remember her, and later she would be offered the job in the program’s infancy. According to Deacon, mental health was chosen to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. She accepted because she believed the company really wanted to support the program, stating that she “would not have come to Bell if I did not believe absolutely that there was a genuine, authentic commitment to make a difference”.
There was much deliberation towards the name, and over whether or not ‘Bell’ title should be included in the brand. In the end, the name was included because it made the statement that the company was willing to be seen standing up beside the issue of mental health to combat the stigma. The name "Bell Let’s Talk" was chosen both as a reference to the campaign's goals of encouraging participants to speak up about mental health issues, and as a play on the company’s role in the telecommunications industry.
From the beginning of the annual Let's Talk Day in 2011 to 2019, Bell had recorded 1,013,915,275 total interactions, with the number increasing each year. Mary Deacon noted "It's been an incredible outpouring of support for those who struggle with mental illness over the last 8 years, and we're now ready to break a billion total messages.”
As of 2019, Bell's commitment sits at $100,695,763.75. According to Twitter, "the #BellLetsTalk hashtag was the most used Canadian hashtag of 2018 on Twitter", and the top three tweets in Canada that year were all related to the initiative.
Through the use of various different platforms, the campaign aims to support mental health issues through four main sectors stated by the company: anti-stigma, care & access, research, and workplace leadership by providing "community grants" to registered charities. The Community Fund component excludes projects related to anti-stigma, events, research, and those involving neurological disorders such as Autism.
Bell’s initiative is designed to spread the awareness of mental health issues through conversation including on social media through the use of its hashtag. For every interaction on Bell Let's Talk Day, the company pledges to donate five Canadian cents towards Canadian mental health, which is then divided among various community projects and major institutions across Canada.
|Every use of the hashtag or view of the video posted on Bell’s account counts as one interaction.|
|Every use of the photo frame and view of the video.|
|Every view of the video.|
|Snapchat||Every use of the Bell Let's Talk geofilter and view of the video.|
|Talk||Every call made on Bell’s wireless or telephone network (local or long distance) counts as one interaction.|
|Text||Every text message sent over a Bell network.|
Since the formation of the program, six-time Olympian Clara Hughes has been the main spokesperson for the Let's Talk initiative. Famous for being the only Canadian dual-season athlete to win multiple medals, Hughes herself has suffered from depression throughout her life, and has taken part in many outreach events to support mental health awareness. Aside from taking part in regular tours to promote the Bell Let's Talk program, Hughes created the 2014 event Clara’s Big Ride. Over 110 days, she cycled over 11,000 kilometres around Canada, visiting 95 communities along the way to spread her message. After visiting each province and territory, Hughes' trip ended in Ottawa on Canada Day of that year. The following January, a documentary about Clara’s interactions over the trip aired on Bell Media-owned CTV.
The program is supported by dozens of other self-described 'team members,' who's stories surrounding their experiences with mental health are promoted on the Bell Let's Talk website and other Bell Media properties leading up to Bell Let's Talk day.
Many Canadian post-secondary institutions have programs associated with the Bell Let's Talk initiative. The York Lions athletics program from York University in Toronto hosts various events through the month of the event, encouraging students to create posters with messages of support, and offering prizes that can be won through participation in the #BellLetsTalk hashtag. The posters are part of Bell’s community program, with speech bubble templates sent to schools and businesses across Canada. Brock University led the creation of their Thrive Week, a series of events coinciding with Bell Let's Talk day to promote self-care and mental health awareness in the school. Their hashtag #LetsThriveBrockU was designed to be used in conjunction with the #BellLetsTalk hashtag to spread awareness in the school. Ryerson University presented a campus activity day on Bell Let's Talk day 2018 called the Sprinkle of Self-Love event. Presented by Ryerson’s tri-mentoring program, the event included food, games, and a photo booth to promote sharing images on Instagram using the hashtag.
Canadian university athletics league U Sports widely promoted the Bell Let's Talk program throughout their member institutions. A majority of schools from the AUS, RESQ, OUA and CWUAA participated in various events over the course of January 2018. Through 100 schools, over 20,000 student-athletes participated in the outreach programs. Spokesperson Clara Hughes played a large role in the partnership, stating that "Athletes are deeply involved in campus life and passionate about their school communities, and I offer my heartfelt thanks to them all for bringing their incredible energy and ideas to the mental health cause."
Results and major contributionsEdit
Each year, the Bell Let's Talk program supports more than 100 local charities and outreach programs. Canadian charitable organizations are eligible to apply for the ‘Community Fund grants’ ranging from $5,000 to $25,000. To date, over 650 different ‘community fund grants’ have been given out. The program also distributes ‘major gifts’ consisting of larger amounts of money donated to high-profile institutions, often in partnership with governments and other charity organizations.
Along with the original $1 million donation to the Royal Ottawa Hospital Foundation that began the Let's Talk program, 2011 also saw several other large contributions towards various mental health programs. The Fondation Hôpital Charles-Lemoyne and Streetohome Foundation received $300,000 and $250,000 respectively, and the University of British Columbia was granted $1 million towards their research programs.
The largest donation, however, was by far a $10 million endowment to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Pushing the foundation well over their $100 million fundraising goal, it was the largest corporate donation to a mental health initiative in Canada. When the announcement was made on May 11, 2011, Bell CEO George Cope stated that it was part of “a new era for mental health in Canada”.
Following the 2012 Bell Let's Talk day, $2 million in donations were made to the Douglas Mental Health Institute in Montreal. Since its opening in 1980, the Douglas Bell Brain Bank has become one of the largest brain banks in the world. With their collection of over 3,000 brains in various conditions of physical and mental health, they are a major contributor to many research projects.
Other donations that year to the amounts of $200,000 and $150,000 were given to the Fondation Cité de la Santé and the Ontario Shores Foundation, respectively. A grant given to Queen’s University in Kingston was used to create a position for the Chair of Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research, first held by PhD (Epidemiology) Heather Stuart.
One of the major $1 million contributions from the 2013 campaign went to the True Patriot Love Fund, a Canadian foundation that began in 2009 to help support soldiers and military families deal with the mental health issues that were often associated with a return from service. Since their founding, they have raised over $25 million for various research and rehabilitation programs.
A second $1 million donation went to the Brain Canada, a convenor for neurological and mental health research across Canada. Since their 2011 partnership with Health Canada, their research fund has been designed to increase contributions to brain research and monitor their investments across the nation.
Other contributions that year went to Concordia University ($500,000), Jewish General Hospital Foundation ($230,000), and Fondation de l’Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal ($1 million).
The year was marked by a $1 million contribution to the Bell Let's Talk movement’s own fund in support of Canada’s northern territories, and a partnership with the Alberta Government to provide better mental health support for youth in the province.
The nation-wide Kids Help Phone service also received a $2.5 million donation to assist with their goal of providing telephone and text counselling to kids in both English and French. The service noted in their end of year report that it was the largest corporate donation they had ever received.
The year’s other major gifts were also aimed at strengthening mental health resources for children across Canada. $1 million to the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, $500,000 to the Universite de Montreal and $225,000 to the Universite Laval Foundation were all aimed at supporting young people, while $500,000 to McGill University was used to create a wellness portal for students to access.
Quebec’s CHU Sainte-Justine was one of the major recipients of the 2015 funds. The mother-child treatment centre in Montreal had noted a 44% rise over the previous four years in the number of children admitted for eating disorders, and utilized their $500,000 contribution to assist in the building of a new intermediate care centre to monitor and treat these disorders after the patients are discharged. The development is part of CHU Sainte-Justine’s better healing campaign, which ran until 2018.
Another $1 million was sent to the VGH UBC Hospital Foundation, who were raising money to support the $82 million expansion project for their hospital’s mental health wing. Opening in 2017, its 2,000 inpatients a year make it the largest mental health facility in the province, and one of the largest in Canada.
In January 2016, Bell announced several donations. A $150,000 donation to the Canadian Red Cross gave the Red Cross the opportunity to create a mental health first aid course. Much like traditional first aid certification courses, the Red Cross’ new mental health first aid course aims to provide first responders with the knowledge necessary to recognize the signs and symptoms of someone in distress, and assist with their treatment until help arrives. A second course, aimed specifically at treating people who are experiencing distress related to severe trauma and disasters, also was created that year.
Another $500,000 was pledged in support of the Ontario-based RISE development program. The micro-financing program was designed to support the over 70% of people with mental illness or addiction issues who are unemployed because of their condition. By supporting them through education and small business loans, RISE works to help them become entrepreneurs. In 2016, the program was beginning to be introduced across the country, and the money from the Bell Let's Talk donation was being used for that expansion.
Other 2016 programs included $500,000 to the Government of Yukon to launch a group-based intervention program for youth, and $1 million to research at l’Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Québec to detect early signs of illness in children.
The largest contribution from the 2017 campaign was a joint investment of $2 million between Bell and the Provincial Governments of the four Atlantic Provinces (Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador) towards the Strongest Families Institute. The program, which was started by two professors from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, works to provide counselling and other mental health programs through online courses and telephone advising to lower travel costs for families. The institute was the winner of the 2017 Governor General’s Innovation Award, and the donation was met enthusiastically endorsed by the government. Robert Henderson, PEI’s Minister of Health and Wellness stated that "With a 90 percent success rate, Strongest Families is customized to each family's needs and provides timely and efficient treatment that helps our young people and their caregivers."
Another $250,000 donation to the Embrace Life Council in Nunavut was aimed at helping spread awareness and education at the community level surrounding suicide prevention. The Iqaluit-based institute is committed to combating the high rate of suicide in the Northern Territories, who suffer a disproportionate number of Canada’s estimated 11 suicides per day.
Like the previous year, $150,000 was donated towards the increase of mental health first aid awareness, this time to St. John Ambulance. Their 2017 agreement with Mental Health First Aid foundation (MHFA) was aimed at increasing the number of instructors trained in mental health first aid, with the goal of eventually integrating it into most first aid courses.
The McGill University Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital received $250,000 for their research project that would span the next three years looking into the different ways that mental health issues are observed and treated across cultures. The Hospital’s Multicultural Human Resource Centre was also being expanded as part of the project, being translated into several more languages to offer support across cultural boundaries.
Other major gifts in 2017 included $200,000 in partnership with Unifor given to Manitoba’s Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre for Indigenous mental health. Quebec’s CISSS de Lanaudiere received $300,000 from each Bell and the Quebec Government, and Queen’s University in Kingston renewed their $1 million donation from 2012.
Outside of the $2 million Community Funds, there were four main major gifts that the Bell Let's Talk program donated to following the Bell Let's Talk Day 2018. The largest was a $1 million donation to the Mental Health Commission of Canada in partnership with the Rossy Family Foundation (RFF), intended to be used to fund the creation of a national standard for post secondary mental health. The two-year long research program is being conducted by the Mental Health Commission, together with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) to build optional guidelines can use and follow in the design of their mental health outreach programs. The goals of the program are to promote student success through health and safety, and as an estimated 75% of mental health problems are first diagnosed between the ages of 16 and 25, they aim to combat the issues as they begin.
The second major gift was $400,000 for the purchase of a repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) machine by the Montreal General Hospital Foundation. According to the McGill University Health Centre, the machine will help grant greater access for their Mental Health Mission and the people they support to the Neuromodulation Unit. The rTMS device is used to assist people coping with various mood disorders who, because of complications and side effects, cannot use traditional medication. The machine works by focusing its magnetic field on specific areas of the patient’s brain, changing the neural connections in the area affected by the disorder. The donation was enthusiastically received by the foundation according to Dr. Michaela Barbarosie, who serves as director of the Neuromodulation Unit. “This donation from Bell Let’s Talk is great news for mental health patients, particularly those who do not tolerate medications due to their side effects,” she said, “Being able to improve access for more patients to non-invasive treatment that does not affect cognitive function and that has few to no side effects is invaluable.”
Third, $150,000 was granted to Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin (OPK), a Winnipeg-based foundation that works to provide education and life support for at-risk youth and young adults from Indigenous communities in Manitoba. OPK focuses primarily on underprivileged Indigenous youth who are suffering from the intergenerational impact of the Indian Residential School (IRS) system on their culture and economy. Founded in 2001 by Chief Larry Morrissette, OPK has been growing steadily, with approximately 75 new participants per year. By 2022, they plan to have 600 participants taking part in the program, and they are putting the money from the Bell Let's Talk initiative towards this expansion.
Finally, $500,000 were committed to the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal Foundation and specifically the institution’s research centre. The foundation works through supporting clinical and scientific projects that promote the reintegration of patients into society.
At the end of Bell Let's Talk Day 2018, the initiative had amassed 138,383,995 interactions across the various participating social platforms. This brought the all-time total to 867,449,649 interactions.
Near the end of 2018, Bell estimated that the 2019 program would be able to bring the all-time total interactions with the campaign to one billion. Bell Let's Talk Day 2019 took place on January 30, with the awareness campaign officially beginning on January 3.
In the lead up to January 30, Bell announced several donations. Bell announced support to expand mental health services for young people throughout Manitoba with a joint $1 million donation with the Province of Manitoba to Strongest Families Institute. The Strongest Families Institute uses a family-focused, distance-coaching approach to support families in the privacy of their own homes at flexible hours at no cost. A $500,000 donation to the Centre for Research and Intervention on Suicide, Ethical Issues and End-of-Life Practices at the Université du Québec à Montréal will be used to develop a first of its kind project aimed at preventing suicide by making optimal use of today's digital communications tools. CHEO, a pediatric health and research centre in Ottawa, will reduce wait times and improve access to mental health care through the Choice and Partnership Approach (CAPA) program with a $300,000 donation. A $300,000 donation to Accueil Bonneau, Welcome Hall Mission and the Old Brewery Mission will support their work caring for those coping with homelessness in Montréal. Bell joined two other partners, the Sens Foundation and Danbe Foundation to support Youth Services Bureau with a donation of $500,000 to support a youth hub.
January 30 saw a record 145,442,699 interactions with social media engagement on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat growing to 27,477,153, up 13%.
In April, Bell announced a $240,000 donation to Behavioural Health Foundation in Winnipeg to expand culturally relevant mental health services.
As Jason Magder notes in the Montreal Gazette, "It’s one thing to give a bunch of money to help improve mental health. And it’s quite another to try to benefit from free advertising at the same time. Or at least so goes the argument against Bell’s initiative to help combat mental health." In an article in the Toronto lifestyle blog Torontoist entitled, "Let’s Talk About The Corporatization of Mental Health", Hana Shafi quotes mental health advocate Lucy Costa who alleges that there is a disconnect between the profit-motives of a company like Bell and effective strategies for combatting mental health challenges. Costa notes, “This is a profoundly different agenda than trying to make sense and meaning of the impact of poverty, isolation, disconnection—including digital disconnection—that so many experience when outcast from the social world due to prejudice,” she says. Costa, along with other local journalists and advocates, have identified similar concerns about Bell's alleged corporatization of mental health issues.
As reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), additional criticism is associated with the company’s alleged treatment of an employee suffering from mental health issues. (The former employee) "was an afternoon radio host at K93 FM in Grand Falls until she was fired on Jan. 12, just one hour after sharing her struggles with mental illness with her colleagues and giving her supervisor a doctor's note stating that she needed two weeks off work to adjust to her new medication." As noted in the article, "(the former employee) said the irony of the situation is that the New Brunswick radio station she was fired from is owned by Bell Media, part of Bell Canada Enterprises, the company behind a national fundraiser for mental health initiatives called 'Bell Let's Talk.'" According to CBC, “(the former employee) said she feels the company has the right intentions, but with better treatment during her own personal mental health problems, the company could have put its money where its mouth is”.
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