I’ll admit I’m torn about today’s #BellLetsTalk
campaign. On the one hand, anything that raises awareness of mental health, that prompts thought and conversation, that helps break down the stigma that often prevents victims from seeking help, that raises critical dollars for research and treatment, is by definition a good thing.
At the same time, if all we’ve done is reduce mental health awareness to a day’s worth of hashtag-sharing, then we’ve failed miserably. Mental health isn’t any more or less important on January 30th than it will be on the 31st, or on any other day of the year. Yet after the wave of attention inevitably dies down after midnight, the crushing realities of mental illness will continue to weigh on those who suffer from it.
I’ve got history
I come from a family that once openly mocked those who experienced mental health challenges. Victims were referred to as “cuckoo” or “not all there”. Mental health professionals were derisively called “shrinks”, and you were somehow less of a complete person if it got out that you went to one. Extended members of my family were simply dropped off the radar because they dared exhibit signs of mental illness.
I come from a family touched by suicide. It’s been four months and three days since we received that awful call, and not a moment goes by that I wonder why we still struggle with mental health even after national-scale campaigns like this one; and why these well-intentioned corporate investments simply aren’t enough.
Retweeting a tweet, quoting a hashtag, posting some cut-and-pasted content - that someone else wrote - in support of the campaign may very well raise awareness, but it doesn’t really start a conversation, and it doesn’t move us any closer to erasing the kind of attitude that marked my own childhood. It’s akin to greenwashing - wrapping a brand in green to suggest eco-friendliness - or pinkwashing, where a pink ribbon added to existing packaging implies an active solution to the scourge of breast cancer. Support and awareness are always laudable and necessary. But limiting the process to a marketing slogan, hashtag, or color, leaves us all short. If all you’re doing is wrapping yourself in the flag, you aren’t really doing much at all.
Do > Say > Click/Tap
At the risk of sounding insensitive, I don’t much care what you’re going to say online, today, in support of this one campaign. I am, however, interested in what you’ll do tomorrow. Will you spend time with a friend who you think may suffer from depression? Will you change your initial perceptions of others, perhaps be kinder and more considerate? Will you leave hashtag-driven and cut-and-paste hacktivism behind in favor of actually DOING something concrete in support of an actual person who experiences mental illness? Will you permanently alter the way you think and act?
We’ve been doing this #BellLetsTalk thing for a number of years. I’m quite certain most of us did the same thing this year that we did last: Shared, pasted, retweeted, repeated the same pithy tag lines the corporate sponsor’s been telling us to use in the leadup to today.
Ask yourself: Why has nothing changed in all this time? Why do we need Bell Media - my former employer, and a company well-known for terminating employees en masse, usually every November, and increasingly every April, too, not because they didn’t do their jobs well, but because the quarterly financials weren’t as rosy as investors would have liked - to tell us how to solve the riddle of mental illness?
We don’t. The answer lies with us. By doing. On an individual, everyday, often-unsung level. Your micro-decisions about how you choose to address mental illness - in yourself, or in those around you - in your day-to-day life, every day of the year, forever, will do more to end the stigma and help victims than any well-intentioned but ultimately incomplete media campaign.
What we really need is for mental health care to receive the same respect and funding accorded all other forms of health care in this country (and, let's be honest, in every country.) We should be ashamed that our society hasn't figured out how to deliver proper mental health care to those who most desperately need it. We should hold abusive employers to account, with updated workplace legislation that provides the same protections for mental health as it currently provides for all other types. We should be outraged with a political system that fails to address the stigma beyond sharing in this once-a-year online/on-air spectacle while our laws and infrastructure remain decades behind.
So please, by all means, feel free to share this post, because Bell will donate $0.05 every time you do so. I’ll be mighty happy if Bell writes an even bigger cheque this year than last. But don’t fool yourself into believing that you’ve now done your duty until the next #BellLetsTalk day rolls around. You haven’t. Not even close.
And that’s the danger of days like today: They convince us we’re doing enough. And we aren’t.
People with mental illness don’t need more talk
Philip Moscovitch, The Globe & Mail, January 28, 2019