Twitter talks mental illness. Who’s listening?

On social media today, it’s Bell Let’s Talk Day, a promotion from the Bell Canada Company in which it agrees to donate 5 cents for every tweet with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk.

The goal is to get people talking about mental illness and eliminate what the company says is a stigma against it by virtue of the thought that mental illness is a character flaw, a weakness, if you will.

Good idea? Or marketing ploy?

Writer Ishmael Daro writes on that it falls into the latter, and any benefit is still part of a marketing campaign.

To be clear, there is great value in rallying around the cause of mental health and allowing ourselves a day to reflect on the topic, even if that activity is sponsored by a corporate entity as foul as a telecommunications company. The conversations that flow from the Bell Let’s Talk campaign are still important and will hopefully continue beyond today, chipping away at the stigma associated with mental illness and letting people find the help and understanding they need.

But it’s also worth recognizing that Bell isn’t acting out of pure benevolence, and that spamming everyone you know with Bell’s messaging will not drastically increase the resources available to mental health professionals. In fact, today might be a great day to donate directly to a local clinic or support centre of your choice, in any amount that you see fit.

Nora Loreto, writing on HuffPo Canada, calls it a “cynical publicity stunt.” She says it allows leaders in Canada to embrace a concept — mental health care — while still actively working against policies that might help provide it.

We need progressive organizations to build off the publicity of Let’s Talk and call for a new day: Let’s Act. When it feels like the snow will never melt and spring will never come, let’s commit ourselves to act.

Let’s Act and demand more funding to mental health supports, including the improved public funding of mental health doctors, treatments and facilities.

Let’s Act and reject Stephen Harper’s attempt to criminalize people with mental health struggles: help and rehabilitation rather than solitary confinement and life-long prison sentences.

Let’s Act and share our struggles, share our solutions and give each other the strength we need to improve our personal situations.

In 2008, I struggled with an intense year of work-place depression. I would cry randomly every night. I felt as if the world was turning and it left me behind. I developed phobias that remain with me until today.

In a rebuttal, however, author Terezia Farkas says the campaign offers “hope.”

Farkas, who suffers from depression, says she initially hated the idea.

It gives you a chance to take off your mask and talk about your pain. It allows you to mourn the loss of who you were and to say, “It’s okay I’m like this now.” It cracks open the darkness for a minute and gives you hope by letting you realize there are people who’ve made it out to the other side.

The last tweet references Rick Rypien, an NHL player who couldn’t beat depression.

Does having a more open discussion help? It did for a woman named Christine, who says the discussion surrounding Rypien’s illness saved her life. Good idea? Or marketing ploy?

  • And now we have a tie-in with a recent, local event:

    • I was thinking about that case as I wrote it.

      Want to guess how much of the mental health aspect of that case will involve analyzing the access to mental health care?

      • Jack Ungerleider

        (waving hand frantically in the air) Oo, oo, I’ll guess. Exactly the amount it takes to question why the shooter was released from psychiatric hospitalization.

      • I’ll take “0%” for $400, Bob.

  • Gary F

    I’m not big on “Hash tag” campaigns. It makes people feel they are doing something when most of the time they are doing very little. But it makes people feel good.

    If this can get people discussing mental illness, that’s a step in the right direction. Just this week, a mentally ill guy shot up the New Hope city hall. Most of the mass murderers such as the Aurora movie shooter and Newtown school shooters had been treated for mental illness. A sizable percentage of the homeless have mental illness. The same goes with those with chemical dependency.

    Not sure what the answers are. But we need a national discussion on the issue and progress needs to be made.

  • Gary F

    Also, most states do a poor job of reporting mental illness to the NICS, the national database for a firearm background check. Some of it is not their fault because of HIPA rules, some of the non-reporting is because caseworkers don’t want to report the person, and some by neglect of the state in have standard procedures.

  • Jack

    I appreciate the reference to work-place depression. It seems like I’ve seen more of it over the past few years than ever before in my 30 year career.

    Stress in the work environment is causing so many health issues, including depression. I think the Great Recession of 2008/2009 is a contributing factor as employees fear that the job could go away at any time.

    Personally I worry about the kids (mine included) that are in college – will they have a worklife where the fear of job loss isn’t always in the background?

  • Chuck

    Even if it’s a marketing ploy, and Bell benefits from it, that doesn’t mean there’s no value in it. Giving five cents per tweet could add up quickly. I see it as being similar to people’s getting tax breaks for donating to nonprofits. Even though the donor gets a benefit, the money is still useful to the donee.