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Chemainus finds education in psychosis

Keyboardist Mike Young of Proud Animal plays during a recent presentation by the ReachOut Psychosis tour at Chemainus Secondary School. - Nick Bekolay
Keyboardist Mike Young of Proud Animal plays during a recent presentation by the ReachOut Psychosis tour at Chemainus Secondary School.
— image credit: Nick Bekolay

A touring band with a twist recently paid a visit to Chemainus Secondary School.

Proud Animal dropped by the school recently to back up Barbara Adler, Gavin Youngash and Mike Young, spokespersons for the ReachOut Psychosis tour, as they spoke to students at CSS regarding psychosis prevention and intervention.

Through music, humour and student participation, Adler and Youngash stripped away students’ misconceptions about psychosis ­— defined by Adler as a “cluster of symptoms that include hallucinations, behavioural and personality changes, paranoia and delusions.”

They then taught them how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental illness and obtain help for themselves or their friends.

After a comical exchange of novel high-fives between Adler and a student volunteer, the band rocked out during one of several musical interludes. Youngash then invited a handful of teens to participate in a demonstration designed to convey to students what someone suffering from psychosis might experience.

He asked one volunteer to play the role of the afflicted person and had them tell the audience about their day. Meanwhile, the remaining volunteers were asked to dance around the “victim,” touch them on the shoulder or whisper in their ear to mimic the effects of visual, tactile and auditory hallucinations.

When asked how someone might feel after coping with these types of distractions for a day or even a week, Youngash said students often answer with “exhausted,” a reaction echoed by the day’s “victim,” a student named Elizabeth.

Adler put the exercise into context following its conclusion.

“We like to point out,” Adler said to the audience, “that even though that demo is often very funny — we see some amazing dance moves — if this were happening in real life, if all of these hallucinations were real, it obviously wouldn’t be funny.”

She segued into a discussion regarding the signs and symptoms of psychosis, referring to the exercise to help draw answers out of students.

Adler then reviewed a variety of ways in which students can help maintain a healthy balance in their lives, sharing the stage with Young as he disclosed the risks to a person’s mental health posed by drugs and alcohol.

The show concluded with a review of support and intervention services available to students, and judging from the number of students approaching the stage following the show, it was well received.

Adler has been involved with ReachOut for “six or seven years,” she said. They tour for six weeks each school year and play additional shows while at home in Vancouver. Touring as extensively as they do has helped their message reach a multitude of students.

“We hit our 100,000th student last February,” Adler added, “and since then, we’ve seen a few more thousand people.”

“We start the presentation asking if anyone’s heard of psychosis,” she added. “A lot of them put their hands up. We ask them if anyone wants to define it and that’s when we get answers like ‘It’s being crazy’ or uneducated answers. Some kids don’t want to talk about it, but by the end, you can feel them loosening up.

“We get a lot of students coming up to us after the show to tell us that they’re going through it themselves or that they’re concerned about a friend. It can really make a difference.”

More information on psychosis prevention and intervention is available on ReachOut’s website.

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