What sparked the idea behind Bell Let’s Talk – a national and global campaign held annually on January 30th in support of mental health initiatives?
One in five Canadians will struggle with a mental illness in their lifetime and it’s the No. 1 cause of workplace disability, a major national health concern that costs the Canadian economy more than $50 billion a year. Yet because of the lingering stigma around mental illness, relatively little was being said or done other than by a dedicated few to move Canadian mental health forward.
After discussions with healthcare and community leaders, including a lot of insight and inspirational advice from Olympian Clara Hughes in conversations at Vancouver 2010, we launched Bell Let’s Talk that year.
We built our mental health initiative with a strategy based on four action pillars: anti-stigma, care and access, new research, and workplace leadership. The most high-profile element is Bell Let’s Talk Day, of course, but our initiative works all year round to drive these pillars in partnership with organizations across the country, more than 900 groups in every region so far.
How has the campaign changed over the years?
Mental illness moved quickly from being an issue kept very much in the shadows to a high-profile subject that people are willing to talk about openly and in an action-oriented way. Engagement in the campaign by Canadians everywhere, including leaders up to the Prime Minister, has been incredible, and we’ve seen participation here in Canada and worldwide grow every year. When influencers like Anderson Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres and even the Royal Family are talking about a made-in-Canada mental health program, you know you’ve got people’s attention.
We’ve refined the program considerably over the years with advice from mental health leaders and the community – for example, by creating dedicated community funds for grassroots organizations, Indigenous peoples and military service members and veterans, in addition to our major gifts to hospitals, universities and other care and research organizations. But I’d say the biggest change from 2010 is that people are now calling us about mental health, to offer their help with Bell Let’s Talk or to ask for advice in applying mental health best practices in their own workplaces, rather than it just being the other way around.
Where do you see it going next?
I see international engagement in Bell Let’s Talk continuing to grow, which I think reflects a universal desire for progress in mental health everywhere. I also think we’ll see continued progress in government engagement and action. We’ve worked closely with Ottawa, the provinces and Indigenous communities on various mental health initiatives, but the need for more investment and action is clearly there. Will we take the Bell Let’s Talk program even further now that we’re set to achieve our $100 million objective? As I said, the need is still there.
Engaging Canadians | 2018/2019 Annual Report
ADAPTED FROM AN INTERVIEW ON THE WEBSITE OF THE IVEY BUSINESS SCHOOL, WESTERN UNIVERSITY, JANUARY 30, 2019
George Cope, President and Chief Executive Officer, BCE Inc. and Bell Canada