On February 27th, Trent Active Minds hosted third annual the Overflow Art Gala, an event that aimed to raise funds and awareness for CMHA and Team 55, in addition to highlighting local Peterborough musical and spoken-word talent.

The event was “an opportunity for students and community members alike to express ourselves, relieve stress, boost self-esteem, appreciate amazing local talent, make friends, and change the conversation about mental health”. Community coordinator for Active Minds, Kristen Mommertz, speaks to the essence of the gala; “It was created so that we could celebrate local artists (from musicians to slam poets to visual artists). We wanted an event that could open up the conversation about mental health and encourage creativity as an outlet. All forms of art and creative expression can help us as self-care, and when our struggles are central to our creative work, it can really get others to open up as well”.

Active Minds is a student-led organization that aims to raise awareness and de-stigmatize mental health on campus by cultivating a safe environment for dialogue, in addition to encouraging help-seeking on campus; acting as a “liaison between students and the mental health community”.

One of the beneficiaries of the gala, Team 55, is a homegrown organization directed by Dave Pogue, which aims to open conversations and awareness around suicide prevention. At the event, Pogue spoke of how the tragedy of losing his then twenty-three-year-old son to suicide. Out of this tragedy blossomed the vision to mobilize resources in order to help others who are struggling with the same issues in silence.

Pogue paired with his son’s former football team to raise funds, donating one dollar for every tackle made. Team 55, to date, has raised tens of thousands of dollars that are donated towards causes such as allowing parents, coaches, and teachers to get Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, for local teens to be able to take the SafeTalk program which allows them to recognize the signs of a potentially suicidal person and reach out for help, in addition to hiring a full-time crisis intervention worker at the Peterborough Regional Health Center.

Kristen comments, “this year we decided to donate to team 55 Tackles Suicide Awareness and CMHA because they do so much for the mental health of the Peterborough community. Daniel, our Media Coordinator, worked with Team 55 to photograph some of their events. When he told us about it, I knew they were an organization that we wanted to support. I have lost some very close friends to suicide, and I think that while the conversation about some mental illnesses is opening up more, suicide is still a taboo topic that people are afraid to speak about. I am so glad that Dave was able to share his story with us”.

Team 55 has paired with the CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) in a symbiotic partnership that has taken incredible steps towards helping those who are struggling, as well as their friends and families.

The Gala attracted local talented local performers such as Television Road, Wes Ryan, Mike Lickers, Niambi Leigh, Fiona Campbell, Gayle Crosmaz-Brown, Ceinwen Perks, Mary-Kate Edwards, and Wayne Kennedy. In addition to the performers, there was a silent auction showcasing painting, drawing, and textile artwork from local artists and artisans.

The event took place in the warmly lit dining hall at Sadleir House. It took off with the president of Trent’s active Minds, Shawn Wallis performing songs on the ukulele and piano. The act was followed by other brilliant artists, many of the themes being consistent with mental health awareness, and destigmatizing mental health. Performers courageously spoke about their own lived experiences with mental health challenges, rewriting the script around what it means to struggle with a largely invisible illness that has too often been misunderstood. The speakers brought to life the humanity behind the mental health challenges that are too often pathologized.

The importance of being able to speak about mental illness and mental health in a safe and supportive environment is highlighted by Mommertz. “The Peterborough arts community has a lot to offer and we wanted to bridge the gap between it and Trent students”, she states. “It’s especially important for students who are maybe living in residence and haven’t explored downtown much yet. When I was in residence first year, I was really depressed and homesick and I almost dropped out. Once I started volunteering at Artspace, going to shows downtown, and becoming friends with other students, it really helped me have a stronger sense of community. It’s really important that we have spaces where we can all come together as a community and talk about this openly”.

The courage and raw honesty of the performers was refreshing and necessary in a culture that largely discriminates against and ostracizes anyone who dares to come forward and speak their own truths. With more events like these, in addition to people continuing to come forward with their stories, hopefully we can move towards a community and culture where mental health stigma ceases to exist.

For more information, please visit trentactiveminds.org, Trent Active Minds on Facebook, or email [email protected].