SEX, DRUGS, ROCK & ROLL, MENTAL HEALTH, CANADIAN ARTISTS, A POLARIZED COUNTRY, AND SENATOR AL FRANKEN.
At about the time we were landing in Washington on June 14, a gunman was opening fire on a local baseball field where some politicians were practicing for a charity baseball game. These events would colour the narrative for the next three days of the Mental Health America conference we were attending.
Shelley and I were invited to speak, and with the theme this year being Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, our session was an exploration of how we as a nation approach mental health. We created and presented “Smashing Stigma: How Canadian Musicians and Artists are Altering the Conversation.”
Senator Al Franken spoke at the welcome luncheon (Several politicians from both sides spoke throughout the conference, including Senator Tim Kaine, and former Senator Patrick Kennedy), and he addressed the violence that had occurred a few hours earlier. It’s a close-knit community on Capitol Hill, and you could sense the sadness and also the resolve of each of the politicians as they spoke.
MENTAL HEALTH AMERICA CONFERENCE 2017:
Franken’s main message though was that healthcare in the US is in crisis, and the reasons for this are well known. But we should not be too smug about the system we enjoy here in Canada, because there is a common thread between our two nations when it comes to this topic, and it is this: support for those with mental health care is unacceptably lacking. Incarceration continues to be the way we treat mental illness. This is a theme that ran through the conference last year, and little has changed one year later.
Still, change is actually happening even if it is slow in coming. Canadian artists and musicians really are affecting change both in attitudes toward mental illness as well as in policy changes at various levels of government. As we prepared for our presentation in the months leading up to the conference, we met many truly talented and committed people through our research:
She’s our new best friend! Amelia was so generous with her time and resources. She even came by our offices with t-shirts for us to hand out at the conference. She’s doing amazing work at a grassroots level in Newfoundland, and the government there is finally taking some concrete action on mental health support in that province.
One of the founders of Great Big Sea, Sean has faced his own personal challenges and now is an advocate for mental wellbeing. He too was generous with his time and insights. Right now he’s the national ambassador for a cause that’s designed to help veterans with PTSD, through the healing power of music.
If you’re looking for a passionate speaker with a compelling story to tell, all in a charming Newfoundland brogue (although when we spoke he said I was the one with the accent) you should check him out.
One of the most compelling people I have ever met, Robb, too was eager to contribute and was generous with his time. This guy is all in. When he was a teenager, Robb was in a serious car accident, and well, I can’t do his story justice.
He’s a compelling speaker as you’ve just seen. Book him. Do it now.
THE SECRET PATH:
Of course, we couldn’t tackle this project without featuring the work Gord Downie is doing in support of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. It’s not a stretch to link present day mental health issues such as depression, addiction, and death by suicide (at an epidemic level) to the historic attempt by our government to systematically erase an entire culture from existence.
Downie’s work on The Secret Path is a moving and gripping depiction of the true story of one boy’s attempt to flee the residential school system. It’s a story all Canadians need to know.
It was gratifying to meet the people who introduced themselves to us after our session, some sharing their own, very touching lived experiences. Like the Canadian Mental Health Association here in Canada, Mental Health America continues to make strides toward changes in government policy and attitudes toward mental illness. It was a rewarding and eye-opening conference, and we are pleased to have been part of it. Watch for an encore presentation hosted by Ramp coming in the fall. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to hear the details.