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In its 11th year, has #BellLetsTalk Day made an impact?

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Thursday was #BellLetsTalk Day, Let’s do a recap.

Thursday marked the 11th annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, a Canadian initiative based in a mainly social media format initiated to created, per its website, “the world’s largest conversation on mental health.” This year, Canadians and people around the world engaged with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk a record-setting 159,173,435 times, raising close to $8 million for the cause.

I’d initially wanted to write a piece about this day as there are a large number of various sports players and teams, especially in the hockey community, that put extra effort into supporting this important cause. It’s not just about erasing the stigma around mental health issues, but also about stressing the fact that it’s OK to talk openly about this mental health, no matter who you are. And since we as hockey fans know that we look up to our players and our teams, and that especially children are very much inspired by their heroes, this was a topic that should be discussed.

Back in 2018, former SCH site manager Satchel Price wrote an article about the same topic, and I thought that my approach should be tailored more towards a “where we were/where we are now” assessment, taking into Price’s poignant article into consideration. He makes some hard-hitting and truthful statements. For example, Price points out that, “...when you’re fighting with something like depression or anxiety, a corporate hashtag does little to get you out of bed,” stressing “...how badly our society needs a greater reckoning with mental illness...that starts with days like Bell Let’s Talk but needs to grow into something bigger. This needs to be 365 days a year.”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Let’s look at this by the numbers starting with the Bell Let’s Talk website and then try to cast a wider net. The website states that between 2010 and 2021 close to 4.5 million Canadians have been reached in some capacity, be it crisis lines, tech-based access or other programs. Considering the population of Canada is 37 million, that number doesn’t seem very promising, but also remember, these are basic stats taken from the initiatives website that don’t allow for serious analysis. One interesting claim on the site is that “84 percent of Canadians reported believing attitudes about mental illness have changed for the better” since the beginning of the initiative in 2010 which seems more encouraging.

Now, I’m just going to interject for a second here and say “I’m sorry” to our readers for focusing on Canadian statistics so far, I haven’t forgotten about all my American readers! However, since Bell Let’s Talk was initiated for Canadian programs, I need to start there. “Sorry.”

Anyway, back to the story. Let’s take a look at some of the tweets supporting this initiative through social media, including some action by the Blackhawks.

Certainly — and unfortunately — the pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues among all demographics, while access to resources remains low. According to a study from August 2020, “More than one in three adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic (weekly average for July: 40.1 percent). In comparison, from January to June 2019, more than one in ten (11 percent) adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder.”

Clearly stats are just stats, but we all need to be part of the team when it comes to supporting those who are suffering, keeping in mind that it’s not always apparent that someone is having issues with depression or anxiety or a host of other mental health issues. And in several instances, the stigma of the subject forces people to feel the need to hide these issues, athletes being no exception. So we can read positive articles and we can participate in a corporate social media initiatives and feel like we did our part, but unless we are truly present and want to enact change, tweets will simply remain empty sentiments and we won’t move forward as a team. But maybe, in the end, although a couple of tweets might not change our mentality right away, as least we are initiating a dialogue.

Let’s end with this heartfelt conversation between Corey Hirsch, an analyst for the Canucks, and Dan Murphy, a host with Sportsnet as a bit of inspiration. Lastly, I want to echo the gratitude that Satchel Price expressed in his 2018 article for both Vox media’s and Second City Hockey’s willingness to support these sort of important conversations.