Since last year, the singer-songwriter has been working to defeat a widespread stigma against people living with mental illness — a stigma she says scares the hell out of her.
“I think we don’t quite understand stigma yet. I think a lot of people are even tired of hearing the word, even though they don’t quite understand what stigma is,” she said.
“I feel like I’m preaching to the choir quite a lot. If I’m in a room, I’m in a room full of people who agree with me and already understand what I’m talking about. And I’m really, really worried about the people who are not in that room, and who don’t have the opportunity to talk to all of us who are here talking to each other.”
Though some people aren’t listening yet, Curran’s activism has undoubtedly reached a lot of people.
A video made last year featuring one of her songs, and a crowd of locals delivering messages about mental health, served as a powerful rallying call to like-minded people in the province. Since its release in the fall, it has received more than 120,000 hits and she has received countless letters and emails from people who want to help.
“I underestimated how important it was to talk, actually,” she said.
“I learned what an effect it can have for one person to stand up and say, ‘Me, too,’ or for someone to stand up for someone who can’t stand up for themselves, or feels they can’t, how really encouraging that is to others.
“That ripples out to such a degree. I don’t even know how far.”
Curran spoke with The Telegram this week about her experience as a mental health advocate. For Mental Health Week, she’s supporting the Canadian Mental Health Association’s GET LOUD campaign — a theme that gels with her mission.
“The idea of getting loud is encouraging people to talk, and encourage people to tell their stories, stand up for each other and realize that we all have to be in this together,” she said.
Since the video, produced by Roger Maunder of Up Sky Down Films, was launched, Curran said a couple of small victories have been achieved in Newfoundland and Labrador: an all-party committee on mental health has been formed, and a 24/7 mobile crisis unit has been put in place in St. John’s.
But despite those steps being made toward filling a gap in this province, Curran said the state of mental health care in this province is abysmal.
“It’s terrifying. But what we are getting is the acknowledgement that it’s abysmal, and we’re starting to listen to solutions. That’s why people need to talk, because that’s where we find the solutions,” she said.
“The provincial government is starting to listen to the (Community Coalition for Mental Health) now as well. They of course had their campaign that Understanding Changes Everything, which is good. I’m really glad that it’s a topic; I just want to make sure that it’s not just an election flag and actually something that goes somewhere.”
Curran said sometimes she feels like she’s making a difference, but other times she’s not so sure.
“I think we’ve been reaching out; we’ve been finding each other. But part of me really worries that maybe I’m new to this, and it’s been like this all along, and I was one of those people who wasn’t in that room. I hope that’s not the case,” she said.
Either way, she’s got no plans to quit making waves.
“I’m hoping in the next stages of this to get outside of this choir, and find all these other people, and spread the word and build the army.”
Launching advocacy across the country
Musician Amelia Curran and filmmaker Roger Maunder are taking their work on the road.
After last year’s event The Launch, which kick-started a wave of mental health advocacy in Newfoundland and Labrador, the pair plans to bring the initiative to cities across Canada.
“We’re going across the country in the fall hoping to document that in a film and get to as many people as we can,” said Curran.
“In the mental health community across the country, it’s quite known that it’s been quite a big year here in St. John’s, so we figure we can travel around and we can say, ‘Listen, we’re having small victories ... pushing the rock a little further up hill, and this is what we’ve done, and imagine if all the communities right across the countries could do this.’”
They plan to travel to all the capitals in the country as well as a few other cities.
Mental illness in Canada
*20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.
*It is estimated that 10-20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder — the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide.
*Schizophrenia affects one per cent of the Canadian population.
*Anxiety disorders affect five per cent of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment.
*Suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16 per cent among 25-44 year olds.
*Almost one half (49 per cent) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem.
*In Canada, only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them.
Source: Canadian Mental Health Association