Bell “Let’s Talk” Day should be a starter’s pistol for teacher wellness

Wednesday, January 29th marked the tenth anniversary of Bell Canada’s “Lets Talk” day. This initiative sees the company pledge a nickel towards supporting mental wellness programs across the country for every social media post that is sent out using a specific criteria. The campaign is designed to reduce the stigma attached to mental illnesses of all shapes and sizes, and this year social media engagements were at a record high, up  6% from 2019. The end result of all this tweeting and posting is that Bell will be putting almost $8 million towards the cause.

Now, it must be recognized that when it comes to corporate Canada, I have not always been kind. I have a healthy distrust of rampant capitalism, and the frequency with which I find myself pointing to an ever increasing corporate influence within our school system gives me a great deal of reason to maintain that view.  Furthermore, there has been some criticism that has emerged this year about Bell and how, if they were truly being altruistic, they could be running the initiative without all the associated self promotion. After all, if you do something for charity, it is not always necessary to bring along a brass band. However, even in the face of such corporate curmudgeony, I must grudgingly tip my hat to Bell. They have done a notable job of promoting the idea that we need to be much more open about pervasiveness and impacts of mental illness upon society in general.

Shameless self promotion aside, Bell’s hyperfocus on mental wellness has resulted in some other, more tangible benefits for the company. In November of 2019, Deloitte released the results of a study it had done on the return on investment (ROI) for companies that had implemented Mental Health Initiatives in their workplaces. Essentially, the report used a fairly complicated formula to determine whether companies that were investing in mental wellness programs were finding the effort worthwhile. That report specifically mentions the work done by Bell Canada, who is referred to in the document as “A champion for mental health”, and attributes a positive ROI of $4.10, based on 2018 data, to its efforts in this area. In short, every dollar Bell has invested in the mental well being of its employees has returned better than four dollars back to the company’s coffers.

The study was pretty clear on emphasizing that Bell was a bit of an outlier. However, positive ROIs were consistent across all the companies which had been collecting data. The median return for companies who had programs in place for at least three years was $1.62. That number rose to $2.18 for companies that had mental health programs in place for more than three years.

When it comes to the cost of ignoring the mental well being of a workforce, the numbers are even more convincing. According to Deloitte, 30 out of every thousand Canadians miss work at least once a week for mental health reasons. That translates to a direct economic impact of about $50 million per year. When the cost of lost productivity is included in the mix, (days when workers are on the job but are not working to capacity) that cost balloons to $6 billion. Whether it is through a reduction in sick days, disability claims, or simply a matter of workers being more productive,  the data seem remarkably clear. Implementing focused strategies for employees to help them deal with mental illness is well worth the investment.

So, let’s take a moment apply this reasoning to our public schools.

Here in Nova Scotia, we have approximately 10,000 teachers. Presumably, if the math is correct, we have 300 missing one day every week due to mental illness. That equates to over $2 million per year in substitute costs. If the ratio of direct to indirect costs holds true here as well, then the bill for that lost productivity balloons to $240 million.

As alarming as that number may be, we have to recognize that when we speak of “lost productivity” for teachers, we are not talking of producing fewer grapple grommets. We are talking about potentially two hundred and forty million less positive interactions with kids, two hundred and forty million fewer teaching moments seized, two hundred and forty million moments of inspiration lost. The cost to our students of continuing to ignore teacher mental wellness may not just be immeasurable, it is practically inconceivable.

Teachers are often on the front line when it comes to the mental wellness of our young people. We teach children who are suicidal. We teach children who suffer from anxiety. We teach children who have depression. In our line of work, we see it all, and do our best to support all these conditions, and more. But I am often left wondering about the impact those burdens have on the teachers themselves, and how many of them, right now, are suffering in silence.

Bell has done an amazing job of bringing mental wellness out of the shadows and into the light. Yet when it comes to our teachers, the stigma is still, very, very real.

Let’s make 2020 the year that changes. #Teachersletstalk.

To find out more about efforts to start this conversation, go to edcan/wellatwork

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Filed under Nova Scotia Education Policy, Public education, teacher mental health, Teacher shortage