Mental illness may be the biggest —and most underreported —health issue facing Canada today.
From fetal alcohol disorders, to ongoing illnesses like schizophrenia, to the rise of dementias in our aging population, the challenge of mental health is not going away.
And too often our justice community becomes a de facto first line of response when mental health crises arise — an inappropriate use of policing resources no matter how you look at it.
When large-scale mental hospitals were closed in the 1990s, many touted the end of patient warehousing, crowing that community-based treatment would be more humane and more effective.
In many cases, this may even be true. But in too many other cases, highly skilled (and highly paid) professional jobs have been replaced by part-time care-home workers at group homes, leaving patients without proper supervision or full care.
Sadly, people carrying the burden of mental illness are often saddled with an additional burden as well: that of stigma. Mental illnesses are illnesses. They’re not the fault of the person afflicted with them. They’re not a moral failing, nor a weakness.
People with depression aren’t just sad. People with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) don’t just need cheering up.
Like physical illnesses, mental illnesses can be treated — albeit sometimes imperfectly. But they can’t be treated if people ignore, repress or refuse to acknowledge them.
So we welcome any initiative that helps remove that stigma, ease the burden and bring attention to this too-hidden issue.
Even when the initiative comes at a price.
Media behemoth Bell Canada is to be commended for tackling mental illness with its “Let’s Talk” social media campaign. For every tweet, every Facebook share, every text message or every long distance call sent yesterday, Bell promised to donate a nickel to “help fund mental health initiatives across Canada.”
Those nickels add up. By mid-afternoon, Bell was proclaiming more than 35 million tweets, texts and calls — worth a cool $1.75 million.
But the money comes with two significant strings.
The first, of course, is that Bell gets to decide which mental health initiatives get funded. That’s fair — it’s their money. According to the Let’s Talk website, they are “introducing an extensive array of initiatives to support anti-stigma, increased access to care, additional research and the creation of an overall culture of mental health support across the Canadian business landscape.” That includes some seven-figure donations to large Canadian medical institutions, but it also includes a community fund that provides grants of between $5,000 and $50,000 to smaller organizations across the country. We encourage Westman groups to think how they might put some of that money to use, and to apply for it.
The second significant string is more problematic. The fact that each qualifying tweet or share comes part and parcel with the Bell brand name means that, essentially, Bell is buying advertising on your newsfeed for a nickel a shot.
They have an obvious vested interest in starting a conversation about mental illness. Conversations are the foundation of their business.
But buying goodwill through charitable donations is nothing new. And there’s no reason to believe that Bell has anything but the best intentions here. In fact, we applaud them.
Judging from some of the feedback on Twitter, though, many people are uncomfortable with this Bell-led branding. The mental health conversation shouldn’t be dominated by one company, on one day, they say. Well, we hear you.
So let us suggest a simple fix: Let’s keep talking.