In January 2013 Steven Leong and Michael Campese lost their close friend and Steven’s cousin, Matt, to suicide. In the weeks and months that followed, the two friends supported each other in their grief, with many conversations arising on the topic of mental illness and suicide.
They quickly became aware of the incredible stigma that surrounds the two topics.
“Because there’s a stigma, a lot of the times we’re not talking about what our challenges are,” Steven says. “And because we’re not talking about what our challenges are, we’re not talking about what the solutions are and we’re not able to help each other.”
From this realization and these conversations, I Will Survive was born. Steven took on the role of Executive Director and Michael became Program Director. It is a registered not-for-profit that is 100% volunteer run.
Their mission is simple: To remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.
“[Matt] was a musician and his passion for music inspired us to achieve our mission by hosting concerts by local musicians,” Steven says. The annual concert series was named Music 4 Life.
In November 2013, the first concert took place, raising $20,000 for Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region, and the Centre for Suicide Prevention.
Steven says the support they saw for their 2013 event was incredible.
“We were really impressed by the support in the community,” he says. “I think it was a reflection of the fact that people are ready to have this conversation. People recognize that mental illnesses are treated differently than other illnesses.
“If somebody gets cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc. we want to help those people get better. We give them as much love and support as we can and help through their health challenges, but if somebody gets a mental illness, a lot of the time it’s treated differently. And people recognize that and agree mental illnesses should be treated the same as any other illness.”
At their 2014 event, they raised $30,000, thus raising $50,000 in the span of 12 months.
Now two years since the first concert, Steven says that at least in his own circles he’s noticed a difference in the way people talk about mental illness. He also noted that since they started the organization many people – friends, family, strangers – have approached them and told them about their own challenges with mental health.
“We’ve even had people reach out to us and say, ‘I wasn’t ready to reach out and get some help before coming out to one of your events and now I’ve gone and got some help.’ It’s cool to hear those stories and see that happen.”
After spending two years working in the mental health sector, Steven says their organization noticed other agencies doing “really great things.”
“Distress Centre was one of the ones that stood out to us – they were doing something different,” Steven says.
“Specifically we were really attracted to ConnecTeen, because we didn’t have a beneficiary that was working extensively with the youth. We appreciated that there was a place that young people could reach out if they needed help, and reach out to other young people. We just think it’s such a cool model, that they’re getting support from their peers and they’re getting support from people who can relate to them.”
At Music 4 Life 2015 attendees can look forward to seeing a great lineup of local bands. The Ashley Hundred headlines the evening, supported by the Mitch Belot Band, Run Deer Run and Amelie Patterson. There will also be a silent auction, raffles and food and drink specials.
I Will Survive also hosts the Music 4 Life podcast in which they sit down with people in the mental health sector and with local musicians to discuss a variety of topics pertaining to music and mental health. Recently they had on our very own Jerilyn Dressler, Interim Executive Director for Distress Centre.
We feel incredibly grateful that ConnecTeen has been chosen as a beneficiary this year. Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region, the Centre for Suicide Prevention and Calgary Counselling Centre are also beneficiaries.
Music 4 Life 2015 takes place on October 24, 2015 at Ceili’s on 4th. Purchase tickets here.
RSVP to the Facebook event.