Two weeks have already passed since our Sing Out for Mental Health concert, and we’re now well into the holiday season. It’s no coincidence this concert was held when it was; in planning discussions, the choir’s steering committee acknowledged that the holidays can be a very difficult time for those who struggle with mental illness. This, in addition to the stigma that still surrounds mental health despite great strides in awareness and education, inspired us to plan a concert to encourage others that they are not alone, and that we stand with you in your struggle.
We have received a lot of positive feedback about the concert. We hope it was encouraging and uplifting for everyone in attendance. If you were moved by the performance, please spread the word, and perhaps write a recommendation on Facebook.
Finally, we are grateful to Arbor Circle for partnering with us to share the need to break down the stigma around mental health and increase access to services. We’re pleased to share that the freewill offering collected during the concert allowed us to make our largest gift to a community partner yet! Thank you to all who donated.
Mental Health is a Social Justice Issue
Janelle Hill, Director of Community Engagement & Advancement for Arbor Circle, spoke about barriers that exist to accessing mental health care. One huge barrier to seeking mental health services is the stigma that exists. As many of us know, a person seeking help for their mental health or emotional health can face judgement, embarrassment, and stigma from their family or community, which can all prevent someone from reaching out. But everyone needs help once in a while.
Janelle clarified that access to care does not only have to do with insurance or ability to pay—and it is indeed a social justice issue: “There are barriers from housing, to transportation, to education that are keeping people from being the healthiest they can be.” This affects everyone in our community. "The healthier we are as individuals, the healthier our neighbors are as individuals, the healthier we are as a community. We're all better off for it."
Help is Available
If you or a loved one in the Grand Rapids area are in need of help with mental or emotional well-being, Arbor Circle can help you get connected with services. If the situation is urgent, help is available 24/7 through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—a toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone, anywhere experiencing suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 1.800.273.TALK, and be routed to the nearest crisis center.
Chorus Members’ Stories: Why Mental Health Matters to Us
In the introduction to our concert, chorus member Kim read these words: "The singers you see before you have all been impacted by mental illness in some way. We see you. We love you. We ARE you."
As we reflect back on the day of our concert, we want to continue to let others know that you are not alone. Some of our members share their stories below.
“Our November 11th concert was important to me for a variety of reasons. As a survivor of childhood abuse in many unimaginable forms, and also of the many health and financial implications I am facing as a result, it is important to me to dissolve the stigma surrounding mental health. It is also equally important to be able to report these issues without fear. Our concert date was the 16th anniversary of my reporting the issues I faced at home as a child. To the surprise of many people that hear this about me, it has had lasting consequences, and I am still dealing with them.
In 2017, things really came to devastating head for me. I was so sick and also had a severe case of identity theft. While trying to clean up this mess, I was diagnosed with Lupus (SLE). I have also previously experienced symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia and Lupus alone can attack the nervous system and impact your mental state when in full swing.
I have had more and more doctors tell me the odds are very stacked against me. I’m at a huge risk based on the above circumstances alone. I think the hardest thing I have had to deal with is people who do not listen, and those that do not think mental health is a medical problem. I have had many “fair weather” people in my life as a result.
There have been times when I have felt not wanted, or felt that people assumed so much about me. I think if people were not so afraid to ask questions and have a conversation, this world would be a much better place! My advice is that if people want to help, it is important for them to start the conversation and keep it open. I don’t want a list of suggestions; just “being there” is enough. The rest can follow naturally. The help of a professional is good for those experiencing difficulty, but it is best for others to “be there” still, as it takes a village.
It is so hard for me to meet new people. I always fear that I might have to hide certain things about myself to please others. At the same time, people that know me, truly know all of me. I don’t like to hold anything back, and I hope I am setting a good example.
I’m so glad that the Justice Choir is a part of my “village” at a critical time. It has been a huge part of my development and resilience when facing challenges. Music is not only a creative outlet for me, but now also a vehicle for advocacy and inspiration. I hope everyone that left our concert on Sunday feels comforted in some way and inspired.
I have always struggled with fitting in with groups because of my depression and anxiety. In high school, there were several times when I just wanted to not exist anymore, especially because I had no one to talk with. I have attempted suicide in the past, which is also something that I am not proud of. I’ve endured a few big life events that the doctors think drove me into a form of psychosis. I was so embarrassed to seek help. It wasn’t until 2011 that I finally opened up to a therapist and was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
I still struggle every day. I am a chronic thinker, worrier, and counter. A lot of people do not realize OCD is not just obsessively washing your hands; it is a chronic obtrusive thinking disorder.
I do believe that my past and my diagnosis has helped me in my work. I am an oncology nurse and often see people who are experiencing mental illness. My own experience helps me connect and better understand my patients.
I’ve enjoyed being in a choir again. It was always something that I loved in school. I really loved the theme, as well, because this topic has such a stigma. I always feel that I will be seen as different if people knew about my diagnosis, and it is nice to have a choir and people bring things to the light.
I have sought counseling services in the past to process the transition into adult life, relationships, and responsibilities, and it was very helpful for me. I have long been an advocate for others to seek this kind of objective guidance in their life, but it wasn’t until just this year that I began seeing a therapist for help with an issue that became bigger and bigger the more I uncovered. I recently learned, and accepted, that specific experiences from my youth were instances of assault that have continued to affect me and hold me back well into my adult years.
I share this because I truly believe that anyone and everyone, whether they believe their struggle is minor or insurmountable, can benefit from seeking mental health services. I am proud of the progress I have made, and I am looking forward to a brighter future. I want others to feel this same hope. The choir, and the timing of our concert, has definitely helped me in my journey.
In the words of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul from the song that closed our concert:
“This is brave, this is bruised. This is who I’m meant to be. This is me.”
Mark Your Calendar!
Our next concert is scheduled for Sunday, March 24, 2019! The theme will be announced in early 2019. Our next rehearsal (open to all!) will be the evening of Monday, January 7. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or to receive updates on the choir.
Thank you for your interest and support!