Let's talk about mental illness.
No, I mean really talk about it.
On Tues. Jan. 28, more than 109 million tweets lit up the Internet during Bell's Let's Talk campaign. The telecom company, often reviled for taking your cash, gave more than $5.5-million of it back to several mental health initiatives.
Now I don't think this or any other publicity-based stunt on Twitter will, on its own, rid the world of mental illness no more than I think Macklemore's Same Love is going to make the world less homophobic.
But as the man said, it's a damn good place to start.
Clara Hughes was one of the faces of the campaign. I've met Clara (yes, she gets the first name treatment) on a couple of occasions. The first time we met was to discuss her battle with mental health and her philanthropic efforts to fight it. The second was to chat about the Olympics and her coming role as a broadcaster in Sochi. Not surprisingly, she expressed concern for the young gay athletes competing there. Would Russia's anti-gay laws cause these young athletes angst or anxiety? Would it potentially prove too much for them?
Her dedication and commitment to this issue is legit. She lives and breathes it.
It's for this reason that I was more than a little disappointed when I saw so many members of the mainstream media writing flippant and dismissive tweets using the #BellLetsTalk hashtag during the day. Couching this smug dismissal around perceived corporate hypocrisy completely misses the point.
The argument was basically this: Bell didn't need to add their name to the campaign hashtag and in doing so they capitalized on free publicity. If they really cared about mental health, they'd do it without any brand identification.
To that I say "How's that money tree growing in your yard? And can I hitch a ride on your unicorn the next time I visit your fantasy castle of idealism?"
Bell paid to play. There are no free rides on this digital train. People should understand by now when something gets tweeted, someone is getting paid. Journalists who share their latest article link via Twitter are making someone money every day.
Today we project our lives to the world with social media apps loaded onto the tools sold by Bell and Rogers, or whatever provider you use, and they earn millions of dollars if Bell is in a hashtag or not.
Increasingly a person's self worth, and in fact, his or her state of mind, is defined by the number of retweets, Facebook likes or Snapchats they receive. Many of the people who are at risk of developing or experiencing mental illness seek sanctuary in these tools and devices. If anything, I see something poetic about Bell's involvement here, perhaps it is even a moral obligation on their part.
Suicide notes today are more likely sent by cryptic text messages, in the form of worrying status updates or worst of all, silence.
Young people suffering from mental illness need to know they have support. The Bell Let's Talk campaign has the potential to do just that. Getting people to talk about their mental issues is difficult. For some, it is almost impossible and tragically often comes too late. If the openness and outpouring of support expressed on Tuesday made it easier for people suffering to open dialogue with their friends and families then Bell's involvement should be applauded.
That is why every tweet I saw that mocked Bell, or chose to highlight some pithy action -- "My glass of milk was spoiled today #BellLetsTalk" -- filled me with such despair and anger.
It's part of the social media trade-off. There's great potential for humanity to collectively tackle our problems and find a better way. And then there are the trolls.
Smartphones can be a window to the world for some. But they are also the storefronts of our lives. When people decide to use these devices to throw stones, the damage is as real as broken glass on pavement. In the glow of these small screens we see our collective reflection. It is a responsibility we all share.
Are you throwing stones or lifelines?