Prince Harry and Meghan Markle seem to be enjoying their time in Canada. They’re strolling through parks on Vancouver Island, taking in the mountain views, and participating in one of our country’s most widespread social media campaigns: Let’s Talk, Bell’s divisive mental health awareness initiative that’s 10 years old today. For every social media post using the #BellLetsTalk hashtag, the telecom giant donates five cents to mental health initiatives.
The Duke and Duchess posted photos of some of the participants in their Instagram story on Wednesday. They encouraged their 11 million followers to “be part of the solution” by joining people who “are taking action and creating positive conversations about mental health.”
“Please share, please talk and be part of the solution,” they implored, sharing the tiny Canadian flag emoji and the #BellLetsTalk hashtag.
Their participation in the campaign is consistent with the mental health advocacy they’ve taken on in the past. Harry has been very open about the difficulty he had coping with his mother’s death, and how he suppressed his grief in an unhealthy way.
“I can safely say that losing my mom at the age of 12 and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but also my work as well,” he told the Telegraph in 2017. In his late 20s, he finally sought out therapy, which he credits for helping him cope more effectively.
Around that time, Harry, along with his brother Prince William and sister-in-law Kate Middleton, founded the mental health campaign Heads Together.
Meghan, too, has taken on mental health advocacy. During a speech in South Africa last fall, she talked about the “consciousness crisis” around mental health, and how strong that stigma around seeking treatment really is. When asked about the most pressing issue in that area, she said, “It’s just getting people to talk about it and talk to each other, right?”
And many of the charities they’ve worked with have been mental-health-focused, like the surf group they met with during their Australian tour in 2018 that also provides mental health support.
Now that they’re full-blown Canadian residents, sort of, Harry and Meghan will likely soon hear about the backlash to the Let’s Talk campaign. Of course it’s worthwhile to encourage people to speak openly about mental health struggles, but many critics say it does more for corporate PR than for people struggling with mental illness.
Many Bell employees, both current and former, have accused the company not only of offering poor mental health support to parts of their staff, but also of causing mental distress by imposing unreasonable standards and extreme pressure on their employees. For the last few years, that seeming discrepancy has been an annual conversation every Bell Let’s Talk Day.
And more recently, a new controversy has arisen.
In 2017, Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt discovered a secret agreement between Bell and the Ontario government, which allowed the company to rake in high profits from every collect call made from a provincial jail while giving the government a kickback.
And those calls are both inconvenient and very expensive, according to the documents Spratt got through a freedom-of-information request: Ontario inmates can only call landlines, and pay $1 for local calls and up to $15 for long-distance.
“The impact of Bell’s telephone contract on inmates in Ontario jails who suffer from mental illness? They can’t contact family members for support,” Spratt wrote in Canadian Lawyer magazine last week. “They can’t reach out for the mental health help that they are not receiving behind bars. They can’t arrange counseling, housing, or employment. They are not able to #BellLetsTalk.”
Meghan and Harry likely had the best of intentions, and their post undoubtedly contributed many a five-cent donation to Bell’s charitable initiative — even if they weren’t fully aware of the controversy behind the campaign.
The couple is still relatively new to Canada, and they’ll eventually get to the place all Canadians inevitably get to: extremely distrustful of every one of our telecom providers.
Also on HuffPost: