Comedienne Knows Tragedy Too

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Luba Goy jokes that she would never have been let into the country if the immigration authorities knew she would grow up and make fun of the politicians. Also an immigrant I never though the funny lady I watched on CBC’s Air Farce when I first came to Canada would cook me lunch one day.

Still, somehow, twenty-eight years later we find ourselves savouring arctic char in her Riverdale home while conversing about life.

Both our fathers attempted suicide with the difference that Luba’s succeeded while mine was stopped and received help. Luba was only 12, an only child, and didn’t find out about the tragedy until much later. She gained more knowledge about words like suicide, depression and mental illness in her late teens. I also didn’t find out right away, and when I did, we didn’t talk much about it.

You may ask why?

“People are afraid and uncertain about what they don’t understand,” says Luba. “The topic is seldom discussed. It wasn’t until a good friend was hospitalized—when her world imploded—that I witnessed the serious side of depression. She had disclosed her Clinical Depression, but was very good at hiding her illness. Thankfully, after six weeks of therapy, and a great team of doctors, my dear friend is enjoying getting “her life back,” she continues.  “It’s important to have empathy, listen, and be supportive.”

Our paths crossed when Luba agreed to host High Notes Avante Productions Inc.’s concert last year. The beloved comedienne was a huge success and is returning for the third High Notes Gala for Mental Health at the Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts on April 28th. The evening promises a variety of beautiful music, powerful storytelling, dance, poetry and laughter.

The High Notes Gala showcases composers, artists and everyday heroes who—just like Luba Goy and myself—have been touched by a mental illness and moved forward. The idea is that by celebrating the successes we can remove stigma, give hope and save lives. Music and words are powerful in creating social change and have been used in the past to change attitudes regarding AIDS and raised money for a variety of worthwhile causes.

Why not mental illness?

The need is huge with one out of five Canadians suffering from mental illness and almost everyone knowing someone who does, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Still—sadly— only 60 per cent seek help due to the stigma. (Canadian Mental Health Commission) The good news—and the one that motivates us to spread the messages of hope with the High Notes Gala—is that if we open up and seek help, it can make a difference in over 80 per cent of depression cases. (CMHA)

“The entertainment and the music will draw the audience in,” says Luba. “Then when they get the facts from professionals and hear the positive testimonials they will be less afraid of the topic and hopefully reach out for help if and when needed.”

Luba, self described as “the fundraising Queen”, is also supporting Margaret’s, an organization supporting women reentering the community after suffering from mental illness. There are many wonderful support organizations available and the High Notes Gala aims to help by providing free display space to connect them with our audience during intermission. We have donated 25 per cent of our tickets to not-for-profit support organizations in order to empower their clients and elevate the status of all mental illness survivors. “If we can save only one life it is all worth it,” Luba and I agree.

Luba is cohosting the gala with mezzo soprano Jean Stilwell of Classical 96.3 FM. Speakers include Dr. David Goldbloom, Senior Medical Advisor with CAMH and Professor of Psychiatry at U of T (as well as co-author of the newly published “How Can I Help?”) talking about Celebrating Talent and Fighting Stigma. Bill McPhee, mental health advocate and publisher of MZ Magazine and Anchor, is speaking about Life After Mental Illness. Performers include Grammy-nominated flautist Ron Korb, 14-year-old virtuoso violinist Mercedes Cheung, pianist and founder of the LifeRecoveryProgram, Paul Radkowski who is performing Ravel and sharing composer recovery stories, operatic tenor Richard Margison and daughter Lauren will surprise us with some of their favourites, members of Ballet Jorgen will perform a Seargent Pepper Beatles number, Julie Everson performing spoken word poetry and a winner or two from the North York Music Festival’s High Notes Gala category will perform work by a composer with a mental health disorder. Pianist Robert Kortgaard will serve as accompanist for the evening.

For tickets call 905.787.8811 or visit rhcentre.ca. To find out more about High Notes Avante Productions Inc., visit highnotesavante.ca or call Ingrid Taheri at 416.605.8915. 

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