Bringing mental health conversation to schools through music


WATCH: Since 2005, ReachOut Psychosis has been touring B.C., presenting life-saving information about mental illness to students across the province.  It’s a dynamic presentation combining music, stories, and conversation.

Sarah Jickling and her Good Bad Luck band are getting ready to perform at Oak Bay High School.  But this is not just a concert for the students, it’s a way to engage a conversation about mental health.  And Jickling is thrilled to take part.

“It’s kinda like, the perfect job,” says Jickling. “I couldn’t believe it existed! You need to play music, and you need to talk about mental health, and those are my two favourite things to do!”

Because Jickling spent most of her teens in a dark place.

“I was portraying myself as this really happy go lucky person,” says Jickling, “and yet, what was going on internally was the very opposite of that.”

And keeping a smile on her face while struggling with her internal demons, finally became too much.

“That’s when I decided to call it quits with the band, tell my story on the internet, and slowly write songs about what was really happening in my life.”

Now 27, living with bipolar and anxiety disorder, Sarah Jickling and her Good Bad Luck perform at middle and high schools across the province as part of the ReachOut Psychosis tour.

“The ‘good bad luck’ does kind of refer to mental illness,” says Jickling, “because it comes with its upsides, and its downsides.  Especially bipolar disorder.”

Sydney Thorne is the ReachOur Psychosis tour coordinator and emcee.

“It’s really needed,” says Thorne, referring to the tour.   “A lot of schools really are eager to book us. We have schools in really remote areas even, that we have to kind of build tours around, so that we can get there.”

Oak Bay High School was pleased to book this presentation.

“They get all sorts of messages from us at the school,” says counsellor and teacher Will Moore, “but it’s important to have an outside voice, and more of an expert voice on different challenges that students face mental health-wise.”

Grade 11 student Aida Hasey agrees.

“I think it’s a really good way of bringing people together to hear a message that a lot of people are uncomfortable about hearing.”

Student Acadia Miles appreciates that all students are given a piece of paper with information as they enter the auditorium.

“Having the slip there to really absorb what’s all the information that they have on the stage and all that stuff, made it really easy to settle in.”

Another grade 11 student, Peter MacBeth, is glad to see that this presentation focuses on deeper mental illnesses.

“Schools and organizations have been paying more attention to youth mental health,” says MacBeth.

“But they’ve mostly focused on depression and anxiety,  which is common and important, but I think it’s also important to look at early onset disorders, or mental illnesses.”

Jickling is also honest with the students about the challenges she faces in managing her illness.

“There are days when I show up here, and I am barely able to do anything. Those are the days where I honestly just tell the kids, ‘hey, you know, I’m living with this. Recovery is not a straight line. Today it’s hard for me to be here, but it’s also important for me to be here because I want to share my story with you, and show you that even though I still struggle, I’m still able to get up and go to work, and that is so huge, and something that I wasn’t able to do even two or three years ago.'”

“I think it’s definitely a step towards breaking the stigma about mental health,” says grade 11 student Tania Dodo, “and I really like the presentation, because it was like a creative way to talk about mental health.”

Jickling is honoured that students are touched by her story.

“It makes a lot of the pain that I’ve gone through feel like it has a purpose.  Just to hear people say, ‘oh, you know, I thought I was the only one that felt like this’ — it’s really great, because I thought I was the only one who felt like this when I was younger.”

Jickling thinks back to that time, and hopes that “if my grade nine self was in the audience, would she, at the end of the presentation, feel like maybe she could go get help… ?”

With support from the BC Schizophrenia Society and HereToHelp, the ReachOut Psychosis tour performs for more than 20,000 students across this province every year.

Veronica CooperVeronica Cooper

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