Question everything series: Bell’s “Let’s Talk”

Today is Bell’s “Let’s Talk” day; a day where for every text message and long distance call made by a Bell customer, Bell donates $0.05 to mental health organizations. Well, Bell, Let’s talk about this.

I’m conflicted.

It seems that no one is interested in saying a negative word about this promotion (let’s call it what it is…), so Mark Unleashed will dare.

On its face, the initiative is excellent, as are many legitimate charitable causes run by legitimate organizations. And they’ve pumped a ton of money into promoting this day.

On the other hand, it must be said that this is a disingenuous “charitable initiative” by Bell. They are donating an incredibly small percentage of what this day will bring in in revenues for them. Fine, I grant that when it comes to “send a text and we’ll give $0.05” – likely teenagers with unlimited text plans who send 50 texts to share one grammar-free and barely cohesive thought are hurting them on this one, but long distance calls on the Bell cellular network are EXPENSIVE! Donate $0.05/minute and my complaint disappears. In fact, if Bell were to donate $0.05/minute, I would laud them as putting their money where their proverbial mouth is WHILE encouraging people to be in touch. Double bonus!

As many readers know, I have disputed what has become an incredibly large definition of “mental illness” that, frankly, is dumbing down the true cases. I am sad that this promotion includes ridiculous, subjective quotes like this one from the CMHA: “At any given time, almost 3 million Canadians have serious depression.” Really? Are they sad? Or are they *seriously* clinically depressed? How do you know this? Have you run scientific tests on 10% of the population *at any given time* or are we just making up numbers to inflate the perceived importance of our organization?

Canada’s population is 35 million, give or take. Among these 35 million, There are, according to Statistics Canada, 4 million children under the age of 9. So is the CMHA claiming that 10% of our population is “seriously clinically depressed”? And “at any given time” suggests that the people referenced are not always the same. I doubt that  “serious depression” goes away quickly in those afflicted by it and appears quickly in others.

Many of you will like to poke holes in the above statements, but they are made to show that it is irresponsible to try to create soundbites and draw up “quick facts”. Sadly, this strategy works. Quotes like these provide obvious punch and make an impact. We must, however, question how truthful the quotes are and, therefore, how honest the resulting impact is.

We live in a society where “I heard it on the radio” and “I read it on facebook” have become justifiable references and reasons for believing what someone wants you to think for their own selfish reasons, and the impact is that we’re dumber as a result. That Bell is also donating $0.05 for every “tweet” that contains its Bell-branded hashtag (which doesn’t mention mental health at all) and facebook “share” with it’s Bell-branded image shows not only more proof that this is a promotion for them, but also the power that Twitter and facebook now hold – media where anyone can say anything without needing to research it at all. Quick facts have taken the place of detailed, reasoned, and supported discussion (how many people read my blog and think TL;DR, sadly?), and sharing is as simple, quick, and mindless as clicking “share” or “retweet” – no thought required.

As of this moment (1:08pm), Bell’s Let’s Talk website says that they are paying $0.05 for 24,716,305 qualifying transactions (of course, noted by the obligatory legal asterisk “subject to final reporting”) which comes to over $1.2 million. There is no doubt that that is a considerable amount of money and I applaud Bell for donating anything to any cause.

However, to pretend that this is an altruistic venture or that they truly care about mental health issues is insulting to our collective mental health. Let’s Talk about that.

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