Mental illness is a difficult subject to talk about, but that's something local musician Amelia Curran and filmmaker Roger Maunder are trying to change with their new project, "This Video." The two gathered together a host of famous faces - including Alan Doyle, Allan Hawco and a number of other cast members from “Republic of Doyle,” writers Lisa Moore and Michael Crummey, and Andy Jones, whose son, Louis Bernard Jones, took his own life as a result of long-term mental illness - to star in the video alongside other locals and soundtracked it with a song Amelia wrote and performed with 19 other local musicians.
“I only thought telling my own story might be helpful, and when I approached the Canadian Mental Health Association with the idea I learned so much - so quickly - about how sticky and somewhat nonexistent the mental health care system is,” Amelia says. “I want to tell people that they are in control, that small actions of one individual can make a great difference. When I asked Roger Maunder to help - quite out of the blue really - he didn’t hesitate. And the responses of all involved were similarly enthusiastic and I think that’s very telling: we are ready to do something about this.”
It soon became apparent that Amelia and Roger weren’t alone in their fight. “We phoned and emailed and, because this town is how it is, just bumped into some folks on the road, and shot the video from June through until October,” she says. “The first day Roger turned the camera on was the day we recorded the song at Don Ellis’ studio. We couldn’t be sure how many musicians were going to show - it was all very quick to schedule - and when 19 folks came to sing we knew right away what we were doing was something important.”
Indeed, mental illness awareness is tremendously important and, often, tremendously underserved. According to figures collected by the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 per cent of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and mental illness will indirectly affect every single Canadian citizen at some point in their lives. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the numbers are significantly bleaker. A recent study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information revealed that Newfoundland and Labrador leads the country in incidents of mental illness requiring hospitalization with a rate nearly triple that of the national average. Total patient days in a year at mental health facilities in the province totaled 61,914, again leading the country in frequency and duration of hospitalization.
Amelia herself is one of the many, many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians directly affected by some form of mental illness. “There’s none of us go unscathed by the experience. And I talk about my experiences to try and help normalize the subject. I was buried by depression and anxiety and spent a long time alone in a room waiting to die. But this is treatable and no one need do that. I have gone to far too many funerals,” she says.
Amelia’s feelings of isolation are not uncommon for someone dealing with mental illness. First, mental illness is often stigmatized - the mistaken belief that the term “mentally ill” is just a more polite term for “crazy,” for instance - leading those suffering to often do so in silence. And, unfortunately, those who do seek treatment often find themselves unable to secure it. While Newfoundland and Labrador has an incidence of mental illness well above the national average, access to treatment falls well below. While St. John’s itself has a number of mental health professionals available, these men and women are burdened with a high patient load, resulting in long delays before treatment becomes available. A more severe issue affects the rest of the province. According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical association, St. John’s is home to three-quarters of the total number of mental health professionals in the province, leaving less than 20 people available for the rest of the population. Labrador, in particular, is severely understaffed.
Amelia and Roger’s little project is turning into something much bigger. “This Video” has gone viral, being shared and distributed over and over again on social media.
Most recently, in December 2014, NDP MHA Gerry Rogers backed a petition drawn up by the Community Coalition 4 Mental Health calling for an all-party mental health committee. On January 21, the motion passed unanimously in the House of Assembly. - By Grant Loveys
To learn more about the project, visit thisvideo.ca.