At the ripe old age of 15, Mark Leishman decided he wanted to be a musician. Standing in front of his mirror, guitar in hand, he was ready to be the next Jimmy Page of Led Zepplin.
Life didn’t quite turn out that way, but since getting involved in a song writing sessions in 2017, Mr Leishman is getting his time on the stage.
The Wild at Heart Community Arts is a non-government organistion running a series of song writing sessions for people with lived experiences of mental illness, starting this month.
“I could always play guitar, make a piece of music,” Mr Leishman, a returning participant, said. “But what it’s given me is a voice.”
Living with multiple mental illnesses, music has played a particularly important role in his life.
“In my situation with mental health, achieving something and setting goals plays a huge role in breaking different disorders’ cycles,” Mr Leishman said.
“I suffer from a lot of anxiety and depression, and idleness is my worst enemy.
The social aspect has been a key element to the workshops’ success too, Mr Leishman said.
I’ve got to make myself get up and do something- and music, when I channel it into that, I get untold satisfaction.
Each series runs for roughly eight weeks, with participants meeting each Friday and starting things off with a shared activity before breaking off into smaller groups to really develop their ideas, and share skills.
“It’s the group environment that’s really strengthened me musically, and also played a big role in my life in the friends I’ve made, the companionship,” Mr Leishman said.
This connection doesn’t stop at the workshop level. Each participant has the opportunity to professionally record their song, and even perform it live to the community at a popular Ballarat venue. Last year this was hosted by The Lost Ones Gallery.
“It’s just that appreciation (from the public and loved ones). When you get appreciation for something you’ve done, it’s just so gratifying,” Mr Leishman said.
“You can have everyday conversations that are very rewarding… but when you create a piece of art, like a song… the reaction to some of the stuff I’ve done has just blown me away.”
He believes groups like the Wild at Heart community and the National Disability Insurance Scheme are helping reduce stigma surrounding mental illness.
“The group is another type of religion for us, providing a strong support system and community,” Mr Leishman said.
“(People with a cross-section of mental illness can be) a bit downtrodden, a bit outcast, from the stigma of mental health.
“All the gratification overrides that for a period of time.”
It’s the “transcendent” nature of music that makes these workshops so powerful, according to co-program facilitator Georgina Williams.
“When we get together, we’re all authors of our own story and open to sharing something brand new,” Ms Williams said.
“We help people bring out their stories and say it in a way that makes sense to them…they get to say something they can’t say in another forum.”
Having been involved with the Life Is a Song program since 2016, she said a key element was providing a supportive, shared community where people can really be heard- and stresses this is regardless of music skill level.
“It’s a game-changer,” Ms Williams said.
“Not only is each person going through their own creative process and skill development, but we get to have the joy of hearing everybody else travel through their song-writing adventure as well.”
Ms Williams said it was important mental illness was not the entire focus either.
“The connections that happen are really valuable, like people starting collaborations in the group,” Ms Williams said.
“They’re not getting together in a group to just discuss that; they’re getting in a group to create something.”
I think people can sometimes get isolated through illness, and (these workshops) really allow people to make connections that have nothing to do with illness.
The next series of song workshops start August 31st. Contact Wild at Heart Community Arts to get involved.
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