MONTREAL — Bell Canada says it is ending its annual practice of donating five cents to mental health programs each time someone uses the phrase "Bell Let's Talk" on a specific day in January.
Instead, the telecom giant says in 2023 it will make a $10-million lump sum donation to Canadian mental health initiatives, more than it has committed on any previous Bell Let's Talk Day.
The change marks a "fundamental shift" in Bell's Let's Talk campaign, the company said Monday, and is meant to shift the emphasis toward "practical actions" that all Canadians can make to improve mental health in Canada.
"As a country, we have made great progress in moving mental health forward, and changed attitudes and behaviours around mental illness, but despite these gains, we must all do more to address the mental health crisis in Canada," said Mirko Bibic, president and CEO of Bell Canada and BCE in a news release.
"We are at a pivotal time when change is urgently needed, so I am pleased to announce that Bell will commit an additional $10 million to Canadian mental health initiatives and on Bell Let's Talk Day, we will put the focus on community organizations that are helping to drive this change and moving mental health support forward."
Since its inception in 2010, Bell's Let's Talk campaign has raised more than $129 million for mental health initiatives and provided funding to more than 1,400 organizations providing mental health supports and services across Canada, including hospitals, universities, local community service providers and other care and research organizations.
The campaign also aimed to raise awareness and destigmatize mental health. By pledging to donate five cents each time a Canadian used the hashtag #BellLetsTalk on social media or via text, Bell encouraged Canadians to open up about their own struggles and experiences with mental health.
Last year, the phrase "Bell Let's Talk" was used more than 165 million times online on Let's Talk Day, raising more than $8.2 million.
However, the Let's Talk campaign has also been the target of criticism. In 2021, just weeks after Let's Talk Day, Bell Media announced hundreds of job cuts at its television and radio stations across Canada — opening itself up to online jabs about the company's perceived lack of concern about its own employees' mental health.
In 2022, the workplace culture at Bell Media came under intense scrutiny in the wake of the ouster of former CTV National News anchor Lisa LaFlamme. The controversy provided ammunition once again to Bell critics, many of whom said the company doesn't walk the talk on mental health.
Bell said Monday that while it's proud of the work the Let's Talk campaign has done to raise awareness about mental health, mental health issues and substance use disorders still affect one in three Canadians.
The company said on this year's Bell Let's Talk Day, Jan. 25, it wants the focus to be on the organizations providing mental health service and supports. It said the 2023 Bell Let's Talk multimedia campaign will be titled "Let's Change This" and will emphasize practical actions everyone can take throughout the year to improve mental health in Canada.
The company said it is encouraging Canadians to use the #BellLetsTalk hashtag to share examples of what they are individually doing to improve mental health for themselves and others.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2023.
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