Music for Mental Health returned to the Stettler Performing Arts Centre for a fifth time on Feb. 1.
Around 70 people were in the audience for what would be over two hours of music and discussion on a topic usually only spoken in hushed tones in the darkness: Suicide.
Lesa Miller started music for Mental Health to honour the memory of her late daughter Kalysta, who took her own life in February 2017.
Since its inception, Miller has directed funds raised from Music for Mental Health back into the Stettler community for youth mental health care.
The beneficiary of the 2024 event was the Heartland Youth Centre (HYC), of which two staff members opened the evening’s program.
Erin Lenz and Hayley Fawcett started by giving a brief overview of the HYC’s 20 programs and the support offered to its 300 members.
The duo noted that one of the key goals of the HYC was to “make a connection with youth.”
Funds raised from the evening would go toward assisting those in need of mental health care if they were unable to afford it themselves.
Following Lenz and Fawcett, Miller herself took the stage. She opened by defining depression, anxiety, and other common mental health issues so that the rest of the evening could progress with everyone having the same understanding.
Miller followed that by giving everyone a tool to use in case they were to become overwhelmed during the evening: Box breathing.
Box breathing is a type of focused breathing used by first responders, military personnel, and others in high-stress situations to calm themselves. A person begins by breathing in for four seconds, holding it for four seconds, exhaling for four seconds, holding it for four seconds, then repeating.
Then Miller began telling her story, describing what was “the worst moment of my life.”
Miller had been on vacation when she got the call that her daughter had taken her life and had been found by her son, Konour.
After grieving, Miller wanted to find a way to honour Kalysta and spread awareness about mental health and mental illness. Hence, Music for Mental Health was born.
During her talk, Miller compared mental illness to cancer, another serious disease.
“We don’t understand depression,” said Miller.
“What would you have thought if your loved one died of cancer?”
In Miller’s mind, there is no difference; cancer is a disease of the body while mental illness is a disease of the mind.
Following Miller’s story and presentation, Alberta-based singer Dean Ray took to the stage. In his roughly 40-minute set, he performed classics such as the Rod Stewart hit “Forever Young,” the CCR hit “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” and several more.
Following the intermission, former NHL player-turned-motivational-speaker Bob Wilkie took to the stage. Wilkie, himself a survivor of tragedy, recounted his journey through trauma, how that trauma cut short his time in the NHL, and ultimately how he got help.
Wilkie played for the Swift Current Broncos in 1986 when that team was involved in a bus accident which killed four people.
Following that incident, and as he went through his playing career, Wilkie suffered untreated post-traumatic stress disorder.
Trauma will rewire our brains if we don’t pay attention, says Wilkie.
“80 per cent of hospital visits are stress-related,” said Wilkie.
“We can’t have space for other people until we have that space within us. I’ve had to work really hard to get there.”
Wilkie left two key takeaways with the audience.
First: “It’s okay to be not ok,” said Wilkie.
Second: “Positivity refuels, and negativity drains.”
Wilkie noted that negativity can lead to physical ailments, mistrusting others, isolation, and confidence and self-esteem issues.
“The road to mental wealth can be daunting.”
Following Wilkie’s presentation, Deena Ransom, another suicide loss survivor shared the story of losing her son to suicide.
Finally, before closing evening, a moment of silence was held in memory of all those who have taken their lives.
In a follow-up after the evening, Miller says she “felt the evening went well.”
According to Miller, the 2024 edition of the event was a record attendance and raised just short of $1,800 for the HYC.