In a prime time Canadian Bell Let’s Talk Day special airing on January 31st on CTV at 7 p.m. EST, The Social Co-Host and journalist, Marci Ien travels across Canada to interview seven Canadians about their diverse mental health struggles.
“Each year we push the conversation forward,” says Ien. “Canadians are sharing their stories like never before and the onus was upon us to say we hear you, we’re listening Canada.”
One in five Canadians will deal with a mental illness this year.
For the past eight years, Bell has been donating 5 cents for every text and tweet on Bell Let’s Talk Day in support of Canadian mental health programs. In a press release, Bell says they set a new record in 2017 with over 131 million messages that raised $6.5 million. In all, over the past eight years, the Bell Let’s Talk campaign has raised over $86 million and is aiming for $100 million by 2020.
“Hearing people’s stories and listening is the thing that I love to do the most,” says Ien. “You can’t ask for anything more as a journalist to be given the opportunity to sit and talk with real people and hear their stories.”
In a departure from previous campaigns, this year, Bell Let’s Talk is focusing on the stories of everyday Canadians instead of celebrities they’ve highlighted in the past including Howie Mandel, Clara Hughes, Serena Ryder, Mary Walsh, and Michael Landsberg. To that end, CTV tasked Ien and a crew of four to film and create, “In Their Own Words”, a one hour special that invites viewers to travel with them into the homes of average Canadians dealing with a mental health issue.
“It was about looking at the provinces from the east coast to central Canada to the prairies to the north which is an area that we were really excited about focusing on because frankly it’s not an area that’s focused on a lot especially when it comes to mental health and the various challenges that that would present,” says Ien.
The crew traveled to Iqaluit, Nunavut to interview Kieran Drachenberg, a Métis and open transgender teen living with depression, anxiety, and borderline personality. They also went to Bedford, Nova Scotia to hear how Allison Garber copes with with obsessive compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
“I think we’ve moved the needle a lot,” says Ien. “There are illnesses that we’re talking about and delving into with this special that we’ve not done before.”
One interview that stood out in particular for Ien was Matt and Lesley’s story on a remote farm in Regina, Saskatchewan.
“When you’re at the mercy of mother nature with regards to your livelihood, it’s difficult,” says Ien. “When the frost came and crops didn’t do what they were supposed to do and money didn’t come in like it was supposed to, Matt didn’t know where to turn.”
Tyler Simmonds’ story of how race played a factor in his mental illness had Ien recalling her early career days as a journalist in Halifax.
“When I worked there as a reporter, I discovered a whole bunch of different things as far as race relations as far as our truths in this country,” recalls Ien.
“There are a lot of studies happening right now about micro aggressions and how racism can have an impact on mental health. Tyler addresses that.”
Jayson Pham’s story of how a guidance counsellor stepped in to help him get treatment for post traumatic stress disorder hit home for Ien.
“The thing that I loved about Jason’s story is that sometimes you find family on the outside,” says Ien. “I know what it is to do that because I know who my dad was and I know what kind of educator he was.”
Ien says as well as hearing each person tell their own story in their own words, it was equally important to present them in the “places and spaces” where they live.
“We found Paulette (Walker) cooking a holiday meal for the people she calls her clients, recovering addicts,” says Ien. “We interviewed her in the kitchen of a church where she was making holiday dinner.”
Walker even agreed to let the crew film her revisiting the areas of town where she used to buy and sell drugs.
“There were times when people shared things I’m sure they haven’t shared with their own family members and now will be sharing with the nation but all did it bearing in mind that this would help and also heal them in actually being able to get this out sometimes for the first time,” says Ien.
Ien says she was honored to be part of the special and will take away with her the courage of each individual who came forward with intimate details of their story.
“There is such power in release,” says Ien. “In just being able to say, you know what? This is my truth. And I’m sitting here at my kitchen table or I’m sitting here in my living room and I’m sharing my truth with you and I’m ok with that…Everybody has a story. Some are talking about it and some aren’t. Hopefully if they see this and they aren’t talking about it, they will.”
Following the special, CTV will be doing a Facebook Live video with a representative from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health along with Mary Deacon, Chair of Bell Let's Talk.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/about_camh/newsroom/for_reporters/Pages/addictionmentalhealthstatistics.aspx
Bell Let's Talk, https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/our-initiatives/team/mary-walsh