Wednesday (27) is Bell Let’s Talk Day, an effort by Canada’s Bell Media communications mogul since 2010 to encourage understanding and support for Canada’s mental health sector by creating a public discussion forum. 1 in 5 Canadians suffers from mental illness. More than 376,000 Ontarians report suffering from a “severe” or “very severe” mental or psychological disability since 2012.
Annual mental health care costs approximately $50 billion to the system (about 7% of health care spending) – according to a report commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC, 2011). The organization is funded by Health Canada, which co-ordinates mental health initiatives and drafted Canada’s mental health strategy.
Unfortunately, initiatives surrounding mental health are notoriously ignored or underfunded. Bell Let’s Talk Day is opening the conversation about a topic that some people are afraid or discouraged from talking about although conversation is a first step to making improvements.
Heather Stuart, Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair at Queen’s University, said, “Everybody’s afraid to say anything. There’s this cloak of secrecy. I think it’s been successful because it just broke through that bubble and said, ‘We’re gonna talk about this, and it’s OK to do it.”
To help drive the conversation and awareness, each January, Bell donates five cents per call, text, Tweet using the #BellLetsTalk hashtag, and Facebook share made through its network on Let’s Talk Day. Eligible communications must promote the cause of mental health awareness and support.
Said Dr. David Goldbloom, a psychiatrist and senior medical adviser at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, “The initiative has broadened the conversation around mental health. We can look at other health causes like HIV or breast cancer, where the conversation went from silence to open talk. I think the same is happening now with mental health.”
Since its inception, Bell has donated more than $73 million to mental health initiatives across Canada. It has also committed to sponsoring Let’s Talk Day for another five years while increasing funding to at least $100 million.
Said Mary Deacon, Chair of Bell Let’s Talk Day, “There’s been greater investment by us and others in mental health, but [it] is still not on par with other common health issues in terms of research, in education and awareness, in access to supports and services.”
Both the MHCC and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) have called for government funding for mental health programs and services to increase from 7 to 9 percent (or about $4.29 billion) over the next 10 years.
Bell’s work and community support is filling a huge void. According to report released Wednesday (27) by the Ontario Human Rights Commission compiled from Federal data, persons “who suffer from mental illness or addiction are much more likely to be poor, unemployed and living in inadequate housing, especially when they also suffer from other forms of disability (as is the case for about 90 percent of the mentally ill population).” Further, the presence of a physical ability makes one more susceptible to developing mental ill health.
Per the Commission, about 29 percent of Ontario residents who report mental health illness “fell below the low income after tax status in 2010, live in poorly conditioned housing that they struggle to afford or is too small for the size of their household. 16 percent of Ontarians who report another type of disability experience similar housing difficulties.”
Other problems facing Ontario’s mentally ill population is chronic unemployment and underemployment, and addiction. The report also found indigenous Ontarians living off reserve are close to three times more likely to report a mental health disability or addiction than non-indigenous Ontarians.
In March of 2014, Summer and Winter Olympic Medalist, Clara Hughes served as a Bell Let’s Talk Spokesperson. Then in its third year, the Bell Let’s Talk campaingn took the mental health conversation around the country with a documentary called and featuring “Clara’s Big Ride” – a bike trek spanning over 12,000 km, in 110 days with 95 community stops. the effort reached many Canadians at the grassroots level to encourage communication and long-term positive change in communities.