While we appreciate you reading this column, we want you to stop for a moment.

Look up and take a quick visual tour around. You will see two common things in most offices. Both are right in front of your eyes – but one of them is impossible to see if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

If your office is like ours, one or more of your coworkers will invariably have their headphones on listening to music. Whether it’s to focus, get motivated or block out the noise of an office, music is a part of many of our daily work lives.

The thing you’ll most likely not see is the colleague who’s struggling with a mental health issue. Or maybe that person is you. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), one in five Canadians will personally experience a mental health problem or illness in a given year. While the stigma of mental illness is waning, the options for support and treatment are still slow to move beyond prescription medications and traditional therapy.

Terry Stuart, Chief Innovation Officer at Deloitte Canada, has seen first hand what the silence around mental health issues can do. In 2010, two of Stuart’s former colleagues lost their son to suicide. Like so many others, there were no signs of mental health issues or requests for help. “They had just been on vacation and had no idea anything was wrong,” added Stuart.

Turning tragedy into something positive, Stuart’s colleagues left their careers to start the foundation jack.org. Their mission is to help turn high school and university students into mental health advocates for their peers and communities.

After other friends and colleagues shared their experiences with mental illness and suicide, Stuart decided to dig into what other treatments and therapies could be helpful. That’s when he was turned on to music therapy. There has been some research into how music affects us.

“We don’t have all the clinical evidence yet, but anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that music therapy can help with mental illness,” said Stuart. Music can improve not just our mental and emotional health, but our physical health, too.
“There’s even been some research into music possibly delaying dementia,” added Stuart. It was insights like these that sparked the idea for what would become the Awesome Music Project.

The goals of the Awesome Music Project (AMP) is to help raise awareness of mental illness and to drive research into the connections between music and mental health. “We wanted to do more than just have a golf tournament to raise money,” Stuart joked. “We started getting stories from people about how music helped them – and we knew we had lightning in a bottle here.”

The first project sparked out of that lightning is the book “Awesome Music Project: Songs of Hope and Happiness.” Curated by Stuart and film and television composer Robert Carli, the book is filled with stories from musicians, artists, cab drivers and even an astronaut. Their stories tell the tales of how a song helped them through a challenging situation or mental health issue. Musician Sarah McLachlan, astronaut Chris Hadfield and Olympic skier Jennifer Heil are just a few of the contributors. The book is available on Amazon, Indigo and at your local bookstore. Proceeds from sales go towards supporting the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“People shared their stories, but they wanted to do more.” The book is just the first in a series of projects and events planned by the AMP team. For the book launch, they hosted “An Evening of Songs, Stories and Science” at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. “You get to hear the story of how a song helped, then an artist performed the song – and that’s followed by the science behind how that song affects you,” said Stuart.

“An Evening of Songs, Stories and Science” is coming to Kitchener-Waterloo on Friday, Nov. 1 at THEMUSEUM. Artists Danny Michel, Sarah Slean and Dan Hill will be performing songs from the stories and Gabe Nespoli, a data scientist at Sonova, will break down the science of music’s impact on our brains.

Nespoli’s PhD research was on what happens in the brain when music makes us want to move. “We hear people talk about music having a groove – and groove is an actual thing,” said Nespoli. “Groove is defined as music that creates a desire in the listener to move.”

When you listen to music, your brain adapts the firing pattern of its neurons to match the metre in the music. Nespoli’s hypothesis was that if there’s syncopation in the rhythm, your auditory cortex would call in help from other parts of your brain. “You don’t think about it, but there's a rhythm in the motions your body performs daily – like walking, it takes specific timing to make that happen,” added Nespoli. When your brain calls in your motor cortex for help, you can notice small to sometimes big movements in your body as you physically react to your calling for reinforcements to make sense of a metre it doesn’t understand.

Proceeds from the event will support a music therapy program at Grand River Hospital.

Tickets are available for $100 – and sponsorship opportunities are available if your company is interested in getting involved.

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Put on the music that motivates you because I see and hear that...Taps and Apps is back on Thursday, Oct. 24 for another awesome evening with 10 local restaurants, 10 local craft breweries and distilleries, and live music with proceeds going to support Big Brothers Big Sisters of Waterloo Region. It's a great night of networking, food and drink at Catalyst 137. On Friday, Oct. 25, head uptown for a special Halloween edition of Campfire with the City of Waterloo. Bring a blanket or your favourite hoodie and gather around the campfire with friends and neighbours for some scary storytelling, warm drinks, fire and more. Have some little monsters at home? The Kitchener Market has its Monster Mash Halloween Party from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 26. Treats and music will be enjoyed and the Kitchener Public Library will be onsite, offering stories and crafts.