Bell Let’s Talk and Other Media Mental Health Campaigns – How Effective Are They for Young People?

Disclaimer: The following blog post involves mentions of suicide.

One in seven youth aged 10 to 19 experience a mental health issue – but many don’t seek or receive the care they need (1). Can media mental health campaigns help to bridge this gap?

What are media mental health campaigns?

Media mental health campaigns are marketing efforts to raise awareness of mental health issues using mass media channels like social media. These campaigns focus on topics such as suicide prevention, destigmatizing mental illness, and promoting mental health resources.

Given the widespread use of social media among young people (generally defined as people aged 10-24), these platforms can be leveraged to spread mental health information in a cost-effective and accessible way (2). It is no surprise to see a growing number of media mental health campaigns directed toward young people over the past few years. But how effective are these campaigns? Do they significantly impact the feelings and behaviours of young people toward mental health?

Despite their prevalence and popularity, there exists only a small number of empirical evaluations of how these campaigns affect young people.

Bell Let’s Talk: The largest mental health campaign in Canada

Consider Bell Let’s Talk – Canada’s most well-known media mental health campaign.

Founded in 2010 by Bell Canada, Bell Let’s Talk aims to destigmatize mental illness by encouraging dialogue about mental health on social media. For one day a year, the company donates $0.05 to mental health initiatives for every text or call on the Bell network, as well as every social media interaction with the campaign. To date, Bell Let’s Talk has raised over $139 million toward mental health initiatives and is the largest corporate initiative in Canada dedicated to mental health (3).

Despite its impressive reach and financial success, there have only been two empirical evaluations of Bell Let’s Talk’s impacts on young people.

Bell Let’s Talk and rates of access to mental health services in young people

In the first evaluation, Booth et al. were curious to see whether the Bell Let’s Talk campaign encouraged young people to use mental health services (4). They analyzed the monthly outpatient mental health visit rates of young people in Ontario between 2006 and 2015 and found that the 2012 Bell Let’s Talk campaign was associated with a temporary increase in mental health service use.

These findings are promising – however, it is possible that other events happening during this time also contributed to the change they observed.

Is Bell Let’s Talk effective for suicide prevention?

Another evaluation of Bell Let’s Talk studied whether the campaign was associated with changes in suicide rates (5). Cȏté et al. compared the suicide rate in Ontario before and during the campaign and found no significant difference in the rates, both among young people and the general population.

In the same study, the researchers analyzed suicide-related Twitter posts under the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. They found that these Tweets focused more on suicide being a societal problem, and less on promoting protective messages about coping and resilience – which have been associated with fewer suicides (6,7). Based on this, the researchers suggest that Bell Let’s Talk and similar campaigns should aim to promote more protective messaging around suicide on social media, which may be more effective for suicide prevention.

Further evaluation of media mental health campaigns is needed

These evaluations suggest that Bell Let’s Talk can positively affect young people but could benefit from promoting more protective messages online. Given the enormous reach, financial stakes, and potential influence of the campaign, two evaluations are insufficient to capture the overall effects of Bell Let’s Talk on young people across Canada. Further evaluations are necessary.

Research in this area must overcome significant obstacles. First, evaluations that rely on objective measures of behaviour fail to capture the unique experiences of individuals as they interact with the campaign. Conversely, evaluations that rely on self-reported data leave room for response bias. For instance, study participants may self-report more positive outcomes after seeing campaign media because they believe researchers expect to see these outcomes. Additionally, campaigns may significantly impact people’s attitudes and behaviours in the long-term in a way that is difficult to detect in evaluations that focus on short-term impact. Even then, these long-term changes in outcomes could be attributed to factors other than mental health campaigns, such as a general increase in access to mental health resources and mental health education.

Despite these challenges, more research evaluations in this area have emerged through the years to address this important knowledge gap. By studying trends in existing media mental health campaigns for young people, we can inform the design and implementation of more effective campaigns in the future, ensuring they will have a better impact on the health and well-being of young people.


  1. Mental health of adolescents [Internet]. World Health Organization. 2021 [cited 2023 Mar 7]. Available from:
  2. Robinson J, Bailey E, Hetrick S, Paix S, O’Donnell M, Cox G, et al. Developing Social Media-Based Suicide Prevention Messages in Partnership With Young People: Exploratory Study. JMIR Ment Health. 2017 Oct 4;4(4):e40.
  3. The positive impact of your efforts | Bell Let’s Talk [Internet]. [cited 2023 Mar 7]. Available from:
  4. Booth RG, Allen BN, Bray Jenkyn KM, Li L, Shariff SZ. Youth Mental Health Services Utilization Rates After a Large-Scale Social Media Campaign: Population-Based Interrupted Time-Series Analysis. JMIR Ment Health. 2018 Apr 6;5(2):e27.
  5. Côté D, Williams M, Zaheer R, Niederkrotenthaler T, Schaffer A, Sinyor M. Suicide-related Twitter Content in Response to a National Mental Health Awareness Campaign and the Association between the Campaign and Suicide Rates in Ontario. Can J Psychiatry. 2021 May;66(5):460–7.
  6. Niederkrotenthaler T, Voracek M, Herberth A, Till B, Strauss M, Etzersdorfer E, et al. Role of media reports in completed and prevented suicide: Werther v. Papageno effects. Br J Psychiatry. 2010 Sep;197(3):234–43.
  7. Sinyor M, Williams M, Zaheer R, Loureiro R, Pirkis J, Heisel MJ, et al. The association between Twitter content and suicide. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2021 Mar;55(3):268–76.

Cindy Zhang (she/her) is a research assistant at the NEST Lab under the supervision of Dr. Julie Robillard. She is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at the University of British Columbia. At the lab, she currently supports research projects on the impact of social media on youth mental health and family communication.