The annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, a nationwide occasion devoted to the importance of encouraging people to seek help for mental health issues and to stamping out the stigma surrounding those issues, is Thursday Jan. 28.
The Sault’s Marcel Provenzano, along with son Lucas and daughter Erika, have performed and recorded a video of a song, composed by Lucas, entitled Let’s Talk for the occasion.
As a group, performing some of their own songs as well as covers of mostly Canadian artists work, they’re known as Sound 3.
“This year the focus (of Bell Let’s Talk Day) has shifted from celebrities in the past, in the forefront of this campaign, to more of a community basis where everybody gets involved and everybody pitches in and does their part. They (Bell) encouraged us to go on social media, however we see fit, using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk,” Marcel said, speaking to SooToday.
Canadian celebrities who have contributed their words of encouragement to those suffering from mental health issues in past Bell Let’s Talk Days have included Olympic medal winning cyclist/speed skater Clara Hughes, Olympic medal winning figure skater Tessa Virtue, singer Celine Dion and actor William Shatner.
“I’ve been writing songs since I was about 12 years old,” Lucas said.
“The three of us, before COVID hit, would regularly play music at Sault Ste. Marie retirement homes. One night we were playing at Pathways and my sister Erika was having a bad day with anxiety. My Dad and I went on for a few songs and then once Erika started feeling better she came on and performed with us. That was the inspiration for this song.”
“Erika was a prime example of going up and facing her fears and anxiety. She could’ve let it get the best of her, but she didn’t, she stood up and faced her fear,” Lucas said.
“It was back in 2017 when I wrote it (Let's Talk), I recorded a video of myself singing it, but this year my Dad, Marcel, came up with the idea of changing it a little bit to reflect the Bell Let’s Talk theme. Marcel helped me revamp it.”
“I’ve got terrible stage fright and anxiety associated with that. Singing for me is very difficult and that was a bad night, a bad panic attack. I’ve lived with general anxiety for well over 15 years. It started just as I entered high school. At the time I didn’t know what was happening. I thought ‘why me? How do I deal with it?’” Erika said.
“I started therapy in the latter part of high school and have been going ever since. It gives me the tools I need daily to cope with the anxiety, for example, of getting up on stage and performing.”
Undaunted, Erika has performed with not only her family but also in the Algoma Festival Choir.
The stigma, Erika said, around seeking help for mental health issues remains a frustrating reality in our society.
“We all go to the doctor for something physical. We have no problem telling a friend ‘I have a physiotherapy appointment on Thursday, I can’t make it for our lunch date.’ I would love for us to get to the point of ‘I have my (mental health) therapy appointment on Thursday, I can’t make it.’”
As a former Sault Ste. Marie Fire Services chief (having worked for 33 years in the dangerous firefighting profession, retiring after serving as chief for five and half years in Jan. 2015), Marcel said “in the course of my career there were varying degrees of some minor anxiety for sure. It goes hand in hand with the job.”
“But, what can happen as a result of those minor levels of anxiety is that sometimes it can trigger other mental health issues, but I’ve been fortunate in being able to manage those issues through the years. The message I want to convey is that you can lead a very normal life by accepting some of these issues and dealing with them head on and not trying to bury them under the rug.”
“I attended some pretty traumatic incidents through 33 years as a firefighter, however, if you don’t deal with it, if you don’t take care of your mental health issues, it can get pretty far reaching to the point where your life can turn around on you on a dime,” Marcel said.
“I managed it very well, thankfully. It’s through talking, through a great support network, I have my family I can sit and discuss my problems with any time, my wife is awesome. That’s why this Let’s Talk program is so important. I hope it inspires people to find others who they can share their stories with. That is so helpful. It really is.”
Sadly, not everyone has a strong, stable, supportive family to turn to these days.
So, who do those souls turn to?
“The family does look so different these days. I would say there are so many community resources out there, I don’t think there’s nearly enough but we’re getting there, but the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and Algoma Public Health (APH) are good starting points (as places to seek help),” said Erika, a Natural Resources Canada information specialist.
“I would also say find out who you are and get into some hobbies that can break you out of what you’re feeling, such as music for example.”
Music, obviously, is a huge help for the Provenzanos.
“Singing’s such a great thing...(with choir practice, especially) everything washes out of my head and I’m just concentrating on the notes I’m singing and the sound we’re making together. I come out of every practice feeling rejuvenated,” Erika said, looking forward to the day when weekly choir practices can resume, post-COVID, adding the Provenzano trio is looking into doing some virtual performances for long-term care home residents.
“We believe music has been a therapeutic and healing power. I feel it helps reduce anxiety, improves mood and to some extent your quality of sleep. Whether it’s a relationship issue, political, or simply a song about being the best you can, music covers topics people can relate to on one level or another. It really inspires people, it calms them, it does so much. When I’m playing music, performing for others or just by myself, it’s the best medicine on the planet in my opinion,” Marcel said.
“I find the best way, for me too, is to play music but also to write music. I find writing my thoughts on a piece of paper and putting it in the form of songs is a huge stress relief for myself. I’ve been doing it since I was 12 years old,” Lucas said.
Now more than ever, in these days of government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions, which are leaving multitudes feeling isolated, it’s important to talk about mental health, the family stated.
“Staying connected in the pandemic (whether in your home bubble or remotely, using online technology, or if you live alone, seeking out a friend you can visit) is key, and to have someone to listen is important,” Marcel said.
Get professional help if you need it and don’t be afraid of any stigma associated with it, the family urged.
Lucas, a Sault PUC field service representative, said “I think this Bell Let’s Talk program is huge. You hear people talk about mental health like it’s something out of the ordinary, but it’s not. Why can’t people say ‘I’m going to my therapist today?’”
“I’ve always been very open with my mental health journey. A lot of progress can be achieved by talking to somebody (a trusted friend, family member and/or a mental health professional),” Erika said, championing the theme of Let’s Talk.