Today we celebrate the 12th annual Bell Let’s Talk Day. Since 2011, it’s driven Bell’s donations to support mental health to an incredible $121 million—while providing an opportunity for Canadians to play an active role moving mental health forward.
The focus of this year’s campaign is around continuing to drive action, and encouraging Canadians to keep listening, keep talking, and keep being there for ourselves and each other.
In the lead up to this year’s campaign, Bell announced several major initiatives across Canada, including a $250,000 partnership with the Canadian Red Cross to provide greater crisis support to Indigenous communities, and a $1.5 million donation by the Bell-Graham Boeckh Foundation Partnership to British Columbia’s Foundry to support integrated youth services.
The LifeSpeak team recently sat down with Bell’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Mental Health, Monika Mielnik. We were curious to learn more about the great work our long-time LifeSpeak client has done to support mental health and reduce stigma in communities across Canada and within the +50,000 employee Bell organization.
Bell’s approach to mental health and stigma
Mielnik told us this year’s Bell Let’s Talk campaign is an opportunity to support all the Canadian communities that have faced incredible challenges over the past year. She says we need to encourage Canadians to be there for each other now, and in the future as well. Mental health issues aren’t new, and they aren’t just going to disappear once the pandemic ends.
According to a stat Mielnik shared from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 1 in 3 workplace disability claims in Canada are related to mental illness. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: according to CAMH, about 50% of Canadians will suffer from a mental illness by age 40, while in any given year 1 in 5 people will struggle with mental health difficulties.
To help its own staff, Bell provides a wide range of mental health benefits including programs like LifeSpeak and Employee and Family Assistance Programs. This year, it also enhanced its internal psychological care benefits. It is now one of the few organizations to provide unlimited coverage for employees and their eligible family members to receive care from licensed psychotherapists, social workers, couple therapists and more.
“We’re incredibly proud of this,” Mielnik shares. “Especially in light of the challenges and extra pressures of the last two years, we wanted to ensure this wouldn’t be a barrier for our employees.”
Steps like this not only provide tangible support for struggling staff but help combat stigma. Mielnik says stigma limits the frequency and scope of conversations around mental health. It also creates barriers to better support from leadership. Meanwhile, reducing stigma ensures we can be more supportive and inclusive; it helps individuals be more open so they can seek the support they need to be more successful.
Internally, that’s not all Bell has done to reduce stigma.
Since 2010, over 18,000 Bell employees and 13,000 team leaders have completed mental health training. The ongoing sessions examine psychological factors that affect mental health and engagement in the workplace. They help leaders protect psychological safety in the workplace and understand how to support struggling individuals.
In 2021 alone, Bell had over 27,000 team members take part in mental health campaign activities. This included expert-led panels sharing best practices while inspirational speakers offered personal stories on a wide range of mental health issues. Employees overwhelmingly enjoyed this approach: the campaign activities earned a 91% employee satisfaction score.
Bell also relies on the LifeSpeak platform. The long-term LifeSpeak client offers its employees and their families unlimited, confidential access to a wide range of LifeSpeak micro-learning mental health and wellbeing content, including micro-learning videos, blogs and tip sheets as well as expert-led web chats in both English and French.
“One of the key benefits of the LifeSpeak platform is that it provides greater access to education on a variety of wellness topics,” Mielnik adds. “We believe that knowledge is power and having information readily available from professionals in a digestible format is super important.”
“With how fast-paced we are as an organization, having a tool like this is key to extending knowledge across the workplace.”
Bell leverages LifeSpeak micro-learning videos in team meetings and campaigns as a training tool to reduce the stigma around mental illness. Mielnik sees value in the just-in-time access to anonymous education the platform gives employees, so they can comfortably explore a topic relevant to them and their families when the need arises.
In particular, Bell staff find LifeSpeak’s Ask the Expert (ATE) sessions helpful. These sessions connect employees with experts in a real-time web chat, providing an easy opportunity for individuals beginning their wellness journey to reach out for support.
The ATE sessions allow people to ask questions in an anonymous environment and to normalize their thoughts and feelings. Mielnik says the ability to participate in dialogue with experts serves as a starting point for further steps like watching educational LifeSpeak videos or reading tip sheets.
Bell’s combination of initiatives to improve mental health awareness, training, and benefits, according to Mielnik, has reduced short-term disability claims related to mental health by over 20%, and reduced relapse and recurrence by more than 50%. But the approach isn’t static—it evolves with the changing factors we all face in our daily lives.
Like many organizations, Bell has had to adapt its mental health strategy to remote working. It’s worked hard to remain engaging and inclusive with both at-home and in-person staff while developing tools for better collaboration. These include guides to discussions on mental health and resources that support employees in a hybrid workplace.
“We are taking a holistic approach,” Mielnik says. “How can we speak to every individual given their unique situations? This includes physical fitness, financial health, social health, and the intersection of mental health with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Those are all elements we’re looking to integrate across our offerings.”
Learn more about the LifeSpeak platform here.
The future of Bell Let’s Talk
When it comes to mental health and stigma across Canada, Bell’s work is far from over.
Earlier in January, it opened its Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund for 2022 grant applications. The $2 million annual program will provide grants of up to $25,000 for local and grassroots mental health initiatives. It also announced new recipients of its $5 million Bell Let’s Talk Diversity Fund, which awards grants of up to $200,000 to projects aiming to reduce the stigma around mental illness or increase access to culturally-informed mental health and wellbeing support for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour communities across Canada.
How to support Bell Let’s Talk Day
On January 26, Mielnik encourages Canadians to get involved by calling, texting, and joining in on social media to drive Bell donations to mental health.
“During this critical time, taking action to drive progress in mental health in our communities will help shape our future, ensure a more resilient future where every Canadian has access to mental health services.”
On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Bell donates 5 cents to Canadian mental health programs for:
To learn more, please visit Bell.ca/LetsTalk.