Tackling Mental Health with Music

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Gary and Emma are members of the Absolutely Everybody Choir and they've shared how joining the Choir has changed their lives.

Gary and Emma are members of the Absolutely Everybody Choir and they've shared how joining the Choir has changed their lives.

An innovative program set up to support people with mental health issues is hitting all the right notes, giving many people a new lease on life along with a new circle of friends.

Upbeat Arts currently runs two choirs, one in the north and another in south Brisbane, and in 2024 will be celebrating a decade of supporting people through the Absolutely Everybody Choir, which started on World Mental Health Day in 2014.

Funded by Queensland Health to support those with mental health issues, the choir has gone from strength to strength, with rehearsals held every Friday in South Brisbane. The choir performs all over the city at community events, and gives those involved a reason to feel part of something special in a non-judgmental and supportive environment.

Susan Gilmartin, operations manager for Upbeat Arts, said she has lost count the number of inspiring stories she’s heard from participants who often had no reason to leave their home, but found a new confidence thanks to the choir.

“The purpose of the choir is to give adults a place to be somewhere,” Susan said. “A place where they can feel part of a community, where they can build their confidence, build their sense of self-esteem, a sense of self-worth, and they just flourish.

“We love to see the way they come out of their shells, and often go on to work, go on to study and do just incredible things with their lives which they at the time may never have dreamt possible.

“Many of the choir members speak about the sense of ‘family’ that they feel here, and for some members that might be the only family that they have.

“It’s important for them, and for everyone to have that feeling of a support network around them, it's so important and we see it each and every week when we come to rehearsals, and we understand that it's okay to be having a bad day, it’s okay to come as you are and be accepted for who you are.”

Susan Gilmartin - Operations Manager of UpBeat Art.

On Friday mornings, high above the streets of South Brisbane, you can hear the choir singing their hearts out under the leadership of conductor Melissa Gill and pianist Richard Thayil.

“The choir has performed at Brisbane City Hall, the Convention Centre, the State Library, The Powerhouse, even in Melbourne, and we are ready to sing anywhere and everywhere.

Pianist Richard Thayil accompanies the Absolutely Everybody Choir.

“We once had a member in the choir who hadn’t left his house in three years due to mental illness, and after several months he eventually walked in the door, and he performed with us for several months. He was amazed at the difference the choir made in his life, and he said it gave him a reason to get out of his bed and get out of the house.

“We are hoping to have something special for our 10th birthday in 2024, and I’m excited that we are launching our third choir in our 10th year, up on the Sunshine Coast,” Susan said.

Choir member Garry from Red Hill, at the ripe age of 69 has been involved in the choir for six years, and believes it has given him a confidence to face life that he never imagined possible.

“I’ve had a long history of mental problems, and I was in my fourth breakdown in my life, I’d just runout of all hope,” Garry said.

“I just couldn’t relate to other human beings, I couldn’t look anyone in the eye, I would struggle to get through two hours in a day. But I came here and bit by bit, because there was never any judgement on me I got to like it.

"When you’re singing with people you feel like you’re connecting with them without having to explain anything, it’s great. I’m a happy man these days.

“Even If it’s difficult at first, hang in there, just do it, don’t think too much, just be there. It’ll come to you really easy. You don’t have to fight for it, it’s there.”

Choir member Emma loves the choir so much that she does the drive from the Gold Coast to sing, and says being a part of the choir has given her a new lease on life, and a new found confidence.

Members of the Absolutely Everybody Choir.

“I was at rock bottom, not well at all, in and out of hospital and my dad was doing a CEO sleep and saw the choir performing,” Emma said. “He thought it might be a good outlet for me.

“Since joining the choir I’ve grown so much, it gives me so much joy. I’ve gone from being an introverted person in my shell to being someone doing something I never thought I’d so, in a safe environment. I’ve got so much joy.

“Now I’m trying so many new things in my life right now that I never thought possible, that were just fantasies to me and I’m actually auditioning now for community theatre!”

Emma has one word of advice to anyone thinking of joining the choir.

“It’s okay not only to have a dream, but have a dream, just do it!”

Find out more about the program at www.upbeatarts.org.au

For more information on mental health and to get support visit: www.qld.gov.au/health/mental-health

The Absolutely Everybody North Brisbane Choir.