CAN WE JUST TALK?
If you live in Canada Bell’s “Let’s Talk” Day is impossible to escape.
Bell Canada is one of Canada’s largest media corporations, operating major television, telecom, cell phone carrier, and retail companies.
Several years ago Bell developed an annual advertising campaign in which it encouraged Canadians to talk to one another about their mental health issues. Bell’s stated campaign goal is to reduce the stigma around mental health issues.
As a sweetener, Bell donates five cents per Let’s Talk text, call, and social media use to mental health initiatives.
THE STIGMA OF BRANDING SOCIAL MALADIES
Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign is social welfare message as Trojan Horse for corporate branding: Bell Let’s Talk Day, brought to you by Bell. Bell!
Corporations often try to attach themselves to good causes by donating money in their name. Rarely do they brand the cause so thoroughly. And never have they attempted to brand a social malady.
Until the current social justice zeitgeist, corporations understood that branding an illness or disease is commercially immoral. A branded ad campaign’s charitable contributions could not ethically offset the corporation’s gains from exploiting social suffering.
But, since the corporate branding door is now open, perhaps we should all embrace disease-branding, College Football bowl-style. How about the Goodyear Tires Aids Day? Or perhaps the Coca-Cola Cleft Palate Week? I’m sure we’d all support Weight Watchers Anorexia Month.
These ridiculous malady-branding suggestions cannot be distasteful while Bell’s mental health day remains corporate altruism. Either branding social maladies is commercially immoral, or it isn’t.
ONE SIZE FITS FREUD
Psychology is inherently individual. But advertising is fundamentally cookie-cutter: one party broadcasts a message that is received by many consumers.
Bell Let’s Talk urges consumers to talk about their mental health issues. For some, this may be great advice. For others, talking may be the wrong thing to do, causing or accelerating mental health incidents.
Bell’s campaign assumes the role of psychologist without the benefit of knowing anything material about its patients. That’s obviously dangerous.
But Bell has decided for everyone that the social gains of purportedly stigma-free talking outweigh any individual harms generated.
Let’s hope Bell’s correct.
Bell’s campaign pitches Let’s Talk Day as a stigma-free national safe space in which everyone can talk about their mental health issues without fear of consequences.
That assumption misunderstands the provenance of mental health stigma. Humans don’t shun people with mental health problems because they’re ignorant and need mental health education.
They avoid them because mental health sufferers are by definition less likely to function optimally in complex human society. Significant complexity exposure to mental health sufferers may therefore decrease your individual ability to maintain order around you.
Humans are naturally risk averse, so they instinctively avoid this chaos problem by avoiding the possibly malfunctioning humans.
That may seem cruel, but that’s only because the intense competition of human existence is cruel. Ongoing success is hard to achieve. It requires constant vigilance to ensure that complexity and chaos don’t overwhelm the order you maintain.
For that reason, many employers will privately tell you that if they became aware of a serious problem with an employee thanks to Bell Let’s Talk Day, they would monitor that employee differently, and even try to safely get rid of him or her.
BRASS HEALTH TACKS
Bell’s wrong. Mental health issues can never be stigma-free.
Openly talking about them therefore carries social standing and employment security risks.
Whether taking those risks is right for you is between you and your mental health professional, not you and your telco.
1. Corporate branding of a social malady is commercially immoral.
2. Psychological problems are inherently individual. Bell’s cookie-cutter advice may be harmful to individuals with mental health issues.
3. Employees who follow Bell’s advice and talk about their mental health problems may create employment security problems for themselves.