Mykia Jovan

Mykia Jovan sings at the annual Music for Mental health benefit concert in 2018, an event formed in 2017 to help bring mental health programming and awareness to New Orleanians through the city's vibrant music scene.

In Wilco’s 1999 track “She’s a Jar,” there’s a line that goes: “When I forget how to talk, I sing."  

Kathryn Rose Wood, the music therapist and singer-songwriter behind the annual Music for Mental Health benefit concert, said that’s the idea behind the event — connecting and reaching people through song and helping them find the means to express themselves and seek help.

“Oftentimes, people don't know or can't find the words to say how they feel or what they want to say, but they can point out a song that describes it or sounds like the feeling,” Wood said.

The third iteration of the concert will take place Friday, Sept. 20 at Gasa Gasa (during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month) and include performances by Kristin Diable, Spirit McIntyre, Dominic Minix, Assata Renay and Paul Sanchez. Performers will sit on stage and alternate singing songs — giving them an intimate platform to share the stories behind the music and talk about their own struggles with mental health.

“The storytelling piece, brings out the purpose to the music and shows how music is powerful and helpful in coping, managing and communicating,” Wood said. “We've had some really powerful experiences in the past few years, performers who have kind of gone deeper than I think some people go in therapy, sharing their stories of why they wrote songs or what feeling they were in at that time. You're trying to be really vulnerable and honest.”

Mental health resources will be available on site for event attendees, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic, Project Fleur-de-lis and the Brett Thomas Doussan (BTD) Foundation.

According to the Louisiana Department of Health, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in Louisiana and the second leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 24. The department also estimates that there are more than 25 suicide attempts for every death by suicide in the state, with the number increasing to between 100 and 200 attempts for 15-to-24-year-olds.

Proceeds from the event will benefit a new youth-focused outreach program called “Music for Mental Health: In Schools” in partnership with school-based mental health program Project Fleur-de-lis. The outreach program stemmed from wanting to increase the availability of mental health services outside the concert. 

“It was the idea that this concert may not be accessible by everyone,” Wood said, “but we know that mental health awareness and interest in well-being need to be taught at a really young age, because otherwise you end up having this cycle of fear and anxiety continue.”

The program draws on the format of the concert, using musical performances and storytelling to facilitate educational workshops and student discussions about music and mental health. Organizers piloted the program in the spring and plan to expand it full scale in the spring of 2020 — bringing it to high schools and youth-focused agencies in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

Wood first started the concert series in 2017 following the death of her 19-year-old brother, Preston, to suicide in 2015. Music helped her through the intense grief process she went through and gave her way to cope with her own suicidal ideation. “Songwriting kind of kept me stable,” she said. 

Volunteering with the BTD Foundation, she came up with the idea of the concert benefit as a way to reach people who may benefit from mental health services. 

“[Music] doesn't really require people to put on display, so to say, their own personal problems,” Wood said. “But it does provide a space to know that these are common, and it's okay to feel helpless or hopeless or hurt, and it's also important to recognize when it's time to ask for help on how to do it.”

Wood said she’s gotten positive feedback from past event attendees, particularly about its concert piece, but an unexpected comment from someone photographing the event stuck out to her.

“I remember one photographer said that he came to the concert to come listen, and it turned out he learned more about himself just by sitting there,” she said. 

Tickets for the event are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Students get in free with a valid student ID. Tickets include food from Wayfare. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.

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