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How Amelia Curran Started a Conversation About Newfoundland's Mental Health Problem with a YouTube Video

By trying to combat her own issues with mental health, the Juno award winner inspired a nation to speak up.

by Aaron Morris
Dec 2 2014, 7:20pm

“Everything I try to start as a light and airy project turns into a big advocacy movement,” says 36-year old Amelia Curran. The Juno award winner is back with her seventh album They Promised You Mercy, but that’s not the only item on Curran’s agenda. Proceeding the album’s release, Curran uploaded a mental health awareness video ingenuously titled “This Video.” Featured in it are 17 fellow musicians, as well as 98 participants from all walks of life. The goal is to direct attention to the fledgling mental health programs of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I think it starts at a community level of how we do something about that,” says Curran. Community is a running theme in both Curran’s life and on her new album. Tracks like “Somebody Somewhere” openly deal with depression, something Curran herself has suffered from since her late 20s. However, rather than be bogged down by it, the east coast native is looking to share her stories with the nation. Thanks in part to the community around her, Curran has found the determination to voice her opinions both honestly and wilfully.

“I’m trying to set an example of normalizing this conversation. I’ll do whatever is needed.” Backed by a “trust fall” band, Curran is gearing up to hit the road to promote both projects simultaneously. While this kind of venture would be colossal for any person to take on, Curran is ready for the challenge. “Our government is gonna have to get used to me, because I have a lot of questions for them.”

Noisey: When did you decide that you were interested in performing and writing your own music?
Amelia Curran: Music happened by accident. I always wrote. I used to write plays, I studied theatre for a short time in university. I thought I would stick with that, but I ended up busking out of necessity and it just kind of stuck. It happened really organically from there.

How did you begin to develop your craft?
I mostly just insisted. I’m a self taught guitar player. I took piano lessons when I was a kid. As a young person, I just insisted that I could do whatever I wanted to do. When you could suddenly make a CD in a person’s basement on a big desktop computer, I decided that I would do that too. I’m sure I owe a lot of people a lot of money, because I just rallied people around me. It was a really creative time. I was 21 when I made my first record. The community around me was really excited. We were all really motivated. It was like “this is how we do that, I’m gonna go do that too.” And I never thought twice about it, which is pretty nervy.

Your latest record They Promised You Mercy just came out. The opening track “Somebody Somewhere” is quite nurturing and inclusive. I’m curious to know what the inspiration was behind writing that song?
That song is about being depressed. There’s quite a bit of that on the album actually. That song in particular is kind of a nod to say that it’s gonna be okay. That there is a light at the end of that terrible tunnel of depression, and that people are there for you. Even if they’re not sitting directly in front of you, people are there for you and thinking about you, and you’re not alone. That’s a really important message in my life. And the more I talk about it, the more I learn that it’s really important for other people as well.

A few weeks before the album came out, you released a mental health awareness video. Why did you decide to do that?
I wanted to tell my own story, but the more people I spoke to the more I realized this is a really big thing. “The system is broken,” was something that was said to me a lot. I was having meetings at the Canada Mental Health Association, and with some of our provincial government people. We have this revolving door of a government in Newfoundland right now. I don’t know how many Premieres we’ve had in the past two years, but it’s getting a bit ridiculous. When you have a government influx, it’s really difficult to get their attention and it’s difficult to get anything done. So we’ve gone to the community to fix this broken system and bit by bit it’s working. Astonishingly.

Was it something personal that happened to you in your life that made you want to create the video?
Yeah definitely. I suffer from an anxiety disorder and mood disorder. I’ve lived with depression. I’ve never been shy about it. I’ve always talked about it with my friends and family. I underestimated how badly people needed to hear that. Just one person raising their hand and saying “me too,” is really powerful. It gets other people talking and there’s this domino effect of talking that’s going on, and I think it’s really important.

Where would you like to see the video go from here?
We are going to do so much in the new year. We’re doing a talking tour that’s just in development with [CMHA]. We’re going to travel across the country. We’re making another more nationally based video, and we’re making a feature documentary. We are taking the show on the road. We have started something in St. John’s that I think could be inspiring to communities across the country. It’s almost like we’ve put our foot down and said enough. Young people are dying. We need to talk.

Going back to the album, I found “Coming For You” to be very direct and personal. I was wondering who you wrote that about?
I don’t know. Isn’t that funny? I think of “I Am The Night” in a similar sense. One of my favourite lyrics that I’ve ever written in my life is “I am the lover of the way you are.” I feel like that sentiment is really important to me. I’ve written a lot of songs that are almost defensive about my person being very far from perfect, but oh well. We’re all only human. Then when I wrote that lyric, I was happy to have written it down. But I don’t know that it was a particular person. I think it’s the sentiment of it that I just find really sincere.

You have seven albums now. What do you still find challenging when it comes to recording?
I’m very nervous in the studio. It’s the relationship with the producer that is very important to me. I need someone to lean on. Every artist has a fear of repeating themselves, or alienating their audience somehow. I’m always nervous. I want to create something new under the sun every time. You sort of just close your eyes and dive in and hope for the best.

What would you like your listeners to take away from the album?
I’m trying really hard to instil a bit of hope. To still acknowledge sadness and to still analyze loneliness. But I want there to be hope. I want there to be light and levity. And that’s important to me. That’s important to me right now just for a quality of life. It’s become a message that I feel really close to.

Right now you are working on this campaign for mental health. I’m curious to know are there any other issues that are close to you?
There’s a lot. I’m really concerned about our government right now. I think it’s getting further and further away from the community of people that it’s supposed to be representing. I’m concerned about communication. I’m concerned about missing and murdered women. I’m concerned about women’s issues. I’m concerned about so many things. I was raised by leftists, so I’ve always been a concerned citizen. But now I’m a really sick and tired concerned citizen.

This year in particular, the idea of feminism was really examined. A lot of women were anti-feminist, while public figures such as Emma Watson and Beyonce were very vocal about their pro-feminist stances. How do you feel about that?
I’m exhausted by people who are against feminism. I’m just exhausted, and I think if you are not going to be helpful then you need to get out of the way. There is nothing worse than being told how to be a feminist by someone who has just joined this conversation. I’m actually paraphrasing a bit an article that was written by Stephanie Domet. She’s saying “women have been pushing this stone uphill for hundreds of years, and if you are not going to help us bare this weight then you need to get out of the way.” I’m exhausted by antifeminism. I think it’s harmful and I think it’s stupid. And I need those people to get out of my way.

What would you like to see the government do in regards to issues of feminism and equality?
The government needs to start listening to its citizens on all these issues. They’re listening to dollars and they’re not listening to people. I think the people are getting tired of that. There has got to be a big change, an attitude change. Yeah I’m concerned, but I’m sick and tired and concerned.

Aaron Morris is a writer living in Toronto who has still not gotten a Twitter.