Campaign boasts bold numbers after year marred by criticism

By Kaelyn Lelonde

The annual Bell Let’s Talk campaign returns this Wednesday to the cautious support of some students and staff.

 “Prioritizing our wellness in a time of COVID is uniquely important as we can’t access the external resources that have helped ground us in the past,” Pamela Villafranca, mental health coordinator at RRC Polytech, said.

“The Bell Let’s Talk campaign acts as a vehicle to open up doors to build confidence in those to come forward and address their struggles,” she added.

On Jan. 26, RRC Polytech will take part in Bell Let’s Talk day between 12 to 1 p.m./RRC POLYTECH

On Jan. 26, Bell will donate 5 cents to Canadian mental health programs on behalf of every user who texts, calls, or interacts with the campaign online.

Bell describes its Let’s Talk campaign as the “world’s biggest conversation about mental health.”  Since 2010, the fundraiser has generated more than $120 million supporting Canadian mental health programming, Bell wrote in a January news release.

The company has faced some condemnation from critics who describe its campaign as a marketing ploy and its treatment of employees as unethical.

Last year, after Bell laid off more than 200 employees, a petition calling for the end of Let’s Talk gathered roughly 6,000 signatures online. 

“While Bell deserves applause for leading the charge in reducing the stigma and encouraging people to open up and share their stories, make no mistake about it, Bell’s real underlying motives are mass brand publicity and millions of dollars in tax write-offs,” the petition read.

The document also accused Bell of manipulating COVID-19 relief funds to profit from the pandemic.

Despite the criticisms and allegations, the campaign boasted record-high engagement in 2021.

Villafranca views any movement that promotes conversations about mental health as meaningful and important.

“There will always be criticism about movements, and that’s fair. It is important for people to have critical thoughts and have conversations about where supports are coming,” she said. 

Breanne Trach, a Nursing student at RRC Polytech, sees how people could portray this campaign as disingenuous, but she hopes they can get past the controversy and focus on the message instead. 

“Going through school is so stressful, and I feel like it is the peak of people’s mental health issues,” said Trach.

Trach would like to see more time at RRC Polytech dedicated to wellness checks, self-reflection, and peer-to-peer sharing.

Villafranca wants to remind students that it is okay not to be okay. Many individuals share the experiences of stress and anxiety, and COVID-19 has forced us to re-invent how we cope with life struggles, she said. 

On Jan. 26, RRC Polytech will participate in Bell Let’s Talk Day between 12 to 1 p.m. on WebEx. The campus wellness team has curated a series of self-led events and short films focused on practicing grounding skills and techniques to better care for mental health and well-being.