Saying it is the single biggest health and social problem facing the country, Bell Canada will invest an unprecedented $50-million in mental health charities over the next five years.
"Bell is stepping out to support this cause," George Cope, the company's president and CEO, said Tuesday.
"And today I'm calling on all corporate leaders to step up."
Mr. Cope said the company's new mental health program will focus its investments in four areas:
- combating stigma;
- bolstering community care and access;
- improving the workplace for those suffering from mental illness;
- investing in brain research.
Mr. Cope recited a litany of statistics, including the fact that one in five Canadians will suffer from a mental illness during their lifetime and that fewer that one-third of sufferers get prompt treatment.
The first high-profile initiative will be the "Let's Talk" campaign on Feb. 09. On that day, Bell will donate 5 cents to a mental health charity for every text message and long-distance call.
The spokeswoman for the program will be Olympic athlete Clara Hughes.
At the press conference announcing her involvement, Ms. Hughes - whose smile is iconic - revealed that she had suffered from severe depression for two years after her first Olympic Games.
"It was the darkest days of my life. I couldn't work, I couldn't train," she said.
Ms. Hughes said that she supports the cause because, like her "everybody should have a chance to heal, everybody has the right to access and support."
Mary Deacon, chair of the Bell Mental Health Program, also spoke emotionally at the announcement.
"This is personal for me," she said. "I lost my two brothers, David and Ted, to depression."
She also announced the company's first donation, a $1-million gift to Royal Ottawa Hospital. The money will go to improving access to care in rural and remote communities by expanding the hospital's tele-psychiatry program.
Mr. Cope said that mental health is the single biggest cause of short-term and long-term disability in Canada.
So, in addition to donating money, he said Bell will lead by example by bolstering its workplace mental health programs.
"We're going to adopt best practices," Mr. Cope said. "We're going to improve our return to work protocols."