Once a year Canadians’ social media feeds are filled with an influx of support for mental health, centred around Bell Let’s Talk day.
The campaign, which began in 2010, has faced numerous criticisms over the years, often based on the simple fact people should be vocal about these problems year round rather than for just one day.
But this year, leading up to Jan. 29, some hoped the effort would be different. Bell pledged $2.5 million in grants for post-secondary institutions to implement the new National Standard for Mental Health and Wellbeing, marking real action supported financially.
Then the layoffs began.
More than 200 employees were dismissed with almost no notice three days after the social media campaign with the company citing COVID-19, leaving notable names like Dan O’Toole and Lucas Meyer without a job.
This is despite Bell receiving federal wage subsidies totalling almost $123 million — which it should return to Ottawa — and had almost $23 billion in revenue in 2020.
O’Toole was especially outspoken about the decision, as well as the entire notion of Bell Let’s Talk.
“So I have to wait for a specific day, and then mention a specific company, and only then, will the company give money to mental health,” he said in a tweet. “Only when I mention them? But shouldn’t they just do it, since they are a billion dollar company?”
The decision has led to outcries against Bell Let’s Talk, with a petition to cancel what some are calling a clear example of Bell’s desire for good press all while showing ambivalence towards the mental health of their own employees.
This is not the first instance of Bell saying one thing regarding mental health and doing another. In 2017 more than 600 employees reported severe anxiety due to sales targets, and told CBC News the pressure was “created from the top down.”
Bell has been using this one day a year to justify questionable behaviour for years, even involving the charity in their acquisition of Astral in 2012. In their pitch to the CRTC to allow the merger to go through Bell cited the $3.5 million that would be going to Bell Let’s Talk, a move that received ire from other communication companies.
Companies using charitable donations for good PR is nothing new. But by focusing the attention around one day of the year and then turning around and laying off hundreds of people despite getting a government handout with the very purpose of preventing that, Bell has managed to blot what could have been a noble effort in corporate social responsibility.
The solution is to stand up and fight for these issues not because it looks good on social media, but because it is the right thing to do, to not give a company like Bell the green light to do whatever it wants by singing their praises for what is, at its core, a PR stunt.
Stand with the journalists and broadcasters who were let go this month and remember these events when the next Bell Let’s Talk day rolls around. Because all the PR in the world shouldn’t make us forget the only time Bell is concerned with mental health is when it is good for the bottom line.