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The first annual UN PHARE DANS LA NUIT (a lighthouse in the night) happens in Moncton on Saturday, March 3, 2014. The event, shining a light on mental health, takes place all day with an art exhibition, an eclectic mix of performances and a conference led by renowned psychology professor Dr. Sheldon Solomon.

The idea for such an event has been brewing in the mind of Dr. Patrick Marcotte, a psychiatrist at Centre hospitalier universitaire Dr-Georges-L.-Dumont, for years. In this Q&A he shares how UN PHARE DANS LA NUIT came to fruition and what’s in store for Saturday. Dr. Marcotte also offers an enlightening perspective on mental illness and the connection between artistic expression and health.

AE also caught up with François Giroux, Vice President and Creative Director at HAWK, New Brunswick’s largest marketing company. Giroux shares what went into UN PHARE DANS LA NUIT’s logo, which he volunteered to design.

“The goal of UN PHARE DANS LA NUIT is not to protest, not even to educate on mental illness - there are already plenty of resources available for that matter.  The goal is to experience TOGETHER a unique moment where everyone is under the spotlight, no matter the diagnostic label.” ~Dr. Patrick Marcotte

What inspired the event UN PHARE DANS LA NUIT and how did it come to being?
PM: I have to go back in time as far back as when I was on the school benches studying medicine at L’Université Laval in my hometown Quebec City. Every year, I participated as a pianist in the university health sciences annual show called Revue Qu’On Sert.  Actually, this show is still running, now in its 62nd year. I found it amazing to meet many other students with artistic talents to prepare a few songs. That would keep us busy and excited for months before the event. When I entered my specialty training in 1998 and more even so after I started my practice in 2003, I quickly was hit by two sad things: one - how much mental illness was taking a heavy toll on the whole person, invading and destructing even his or her most previously passionate area of interests, and two - how much it was difficult to overcome the shame imposed by social stigma, increasing drastically the challenge to get back on track. For my patients with an interest in music, not only did the pervading illness ruin their interest, but also opportunities to renew their passion were seriously lacking. The idea came years ago, with the hope of giving a few individuals an opportunity similar to the one I had in the past.   

Tell us a little more about what’s happening at UN PHARE DANS LA NUIT on Saturday.  
PM: Talking about the project with a LOT of people for the last 3 to 4 years, I rapidly found interest for music but also for exhibiting all form of artistic creations. So, there will be a lot of everything: we have 30 people who will be part of the exhibit, starting at 11 a.m. (May 3).  Some folks will read poems they wrote, discuss books they’ve written. We have the enormous privilege to welcome an internationally renowned speaker, Dr. Sheldon Solomon, from upstate New York, who will give an extremely interesting conference on the existential roots of stigma towards mental illness. The conference - in English only - starts at 1 p.m.  Afterward, there’s a mostly musical show during the afternoon, starting at 2:30 p.m. We had to create this afternoon show because we had too many artists for the evening show. And, of course, the formal one: the evening show, starting at 7:30 p.m. There you’ll find music but also dance, touching video testimonials from patients living with mental disorders we taped professionally last March, two speeches by a parent/psychologist, and animation.  Everything is free except for the evening show: tickets are one sale now, at the Université de Moncton ticket centre (858-4554) for 22.50$ including fees.  All profits go to the cause.  

What will the profits, earned from ticket sales, specifically benefit?
PM: The funds raised by UN PHARE DANS LA NUIT will be used to bring about actual improvements to treatment services available to those suffering from mental health issues in our region, thereby increasing their chance of recovery:

Short term:

-Put in place an emergency fund to solve certain basic needs impasses, such as housing, clothing, transportation to appointments, etc.
-Cover the cost of certain new drugs with fewer side effects but not yet featured on the list of medications covered by the government.
-Purchase several phototherapy lamps useful in treating depression, but not covered by the government.
-Educate the public and certain target groups about mental illness
-Make available opportunities for education and employment and artistic development.
-Encourage fitness by improving access to various resources destined to physical activity.
-Engage in the necessary steps to let the government know the importance to solve current major deficiencies in obtaining access to mental health services in our region.

In the medium and long term the campaign will contribute to promote clinical expertise, education and research in mental health at Dr-Georges-L.-Dumont UHC.

“…severe mental disorders tend to affect a lot the ability to communicate verbally, because some neurological circuits are damaged by the illness; but art, which mostly originates in the non dominant cerebral hemisphere, seems to offer an alternate route to communication.” ~ Dr. Patrick Marcotte

Who will be featured as performers/artists at UN PHARE DANS LA NUIT?
PM: Most people are connected to mental health community in some way.  We have quite a few persons suffering from mental illnesses, family members, staff including nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists.... The medical community is also well represented, with two students in medicine, two family doctors, one emergency physician and two psychiatrists (including myself).  I even (almost) convinced a surgeon!  There are a few “outsiders”, including two band mates I played lead guitar with in a band named Calico Jacks for nine years until 2012.   

How have preparations been going and what are you most excited about?

PM: We've been spending a lot of energy for more than a year now. We’re not a big team – five or six people doing most of the work. Luckily, I’m surrounded by very dynamic people who are very functional, reliable and dedicated to their roles. The most exciting moments - so far - have been seeing some patients - sidetracked by severe mental illnesses - get back on the road with a sense of direction and smile on their faces that we had not seen for a very long while. This outcome, in itself, for me, has already made all the painstaking long hours we’ve put in the project fully worthwhile.  The auditions we held in January, the taping of a TV commercial and testimonials last March, the event LOGO unveiling, the T-shirt order; these have been exciting moments.  Meeting with a lot of folks from different backgrounds, all working to this common goal of improving the future of mental illness has been quite a satisfying experience.  

Dr. Patrick Marcotte

And you will be performing too?
PM: Practicing with a lot of talented folks has been a real treat. I must admit an egocentric motive: it’s always a mystical experience for me to plug a nice Fender Stratocaster or Gibson guitar into a Marshall amp, or to play the piano in an inspiring setting and I’m really looking forward to this moment, musically-speaking !  There’s even one old good friend of mine who will travel all the way from Gaspé (Quebec) to perform a few songs. Last time we played music together was 18 years ago!    

In your opinion how does art benefit those who suffer from mental illness (or any illness)? 
PM: Most modern branches of psychotherapy stress the importance of mindfulness in the process of maturing and becoming more resilient in the face of adversity - for example a mental disorder.  You may reach mindful states - being an observer from a distance of your thoughts, emotions, and sensations…at any given point in time - through many different pathways. Meditation is one. Mindful eating, walking or yoga would be other examples. Art is certainly potentially a very direct and effective mean to enter in perfect communion with the present moment where life is really worth living.  

Also, severe mental disorders tend to affect a lot the ability to communicate verbally, because some neurological circuits are damaged by the illness; but art, which mostly originates in the non dominant cerebral hemisphere, seems to offer an alternate route to communication. It would be quite hard if not impossible for a lot of patients to deliver an inspiring testimonial like cancer patients do during the Tree of Hope campaign. But wait and see what they can do with a brush or a guitar in their hand.       

What are your hopes for UN PHARE DANS LA NUIT?
PM: I hope the event will keep on happening every year for a long time, as long as it may bring psychiatry on par with other medical specialities in terms of recognition of the suffering of individuals affected by illnesses, in terms of empathy from the general population, in terms of funding of research and clinical services. Over the years, I’d like gradually to include anyone with an interest for mental health in the project; I don’t want the event to be reserved for people with artistic talent and tell people who are not artists “just too bad”.  The next big step may be to include sports and physical activity in the event. Games on the campus and walks or runs could easily be blended in. I also would want to include people from all age groups, from youngsters to the elderly.  

“We’re all human beings, identical to a degree of 99.6%, the human genome project teaches us. Most mental illnesses are not easily seen and even when they are, their origin is only explained by a dysfunction of a tiny group of neurons—not a reason to withdraw love and respect from these unfortunate people.” ~ Dr. Patrick Marcotte

Who should attend
PM: Everyone!  The goal of UN PHARE DANS LA NUIT is not to protest, not even to educate on mental illness – there are already plenty of resources available for that matter.  The goal is to experience TOGETHER a unique moment where everyone is under the spotlight, no matter the diagnostic label. We’re all human beings, identical to a degree of 99.6%, the human genome project teaches us. Most mental illnesses are not easily seen and even when they are, their origin is only explained by a dysfunction of a tiny group of neurons—not a reason to withdraw love and respect from these unfortunate people. We have much more good reason to feel alike, to celebrate our common humanity, than to feel isolated or profoundly different. That may be scary for the ones doing fine, but dissipation of the illusion of difference would be beneficial to everyone.  

In your opinion, how have mental health awareness and support improved and what can we, as a society, be doing better?
PM: Mental health awareness has certainly improved but people with these disorders are not necessarily better welcomed in society. It’s a very frightening scenario for anyone to consider developing such a tragic illness. Everyone likes to believe mental illness only strike others. It’s reassuring to believe that these people have done something wrong, that they are possessed…that they are completely from another dimension. It’s reassuring to believe that if I do enough physical exercise, if I eat well, if I meditate, I’ll be spared…But truth is, no one is immune to the eventuality of a mental illness. Some of my patients are high achievers, strong and generous people and yet, they may fall too, badly and deeply.  We’ve had, recently, a very tragic example of this when one of our dear colleagues jumped from a bridge. He was known as a very caring physician, with high standards of quality. Afterwards, people think had they been in his shoes, they would have handled things very differently. They don’t understand the deep psychological suffering one may endure with a mental disorder, independently of social status, wealth, any other superficial attribute or any strength of character. As with any illness in medicine, sometimes the illness wins, no matter how determined the patient is and his or her treatment team. That’s no reason to stop working as hard as we can to overcome these devastating conditions, the worst experiences a human being can do through.        

What’s Behind the Logo?

“Mental illness is a subject that is beginning to step into the light with more and more people realizing that talking about it is the only way to break the stigma. It's very encouraging and Hawk is proud to have contributed (in a small way) to the great initiative that is ‘Un phare dans la nuit’.

The logo is made up of colourful guitar picks highlighting the gathering of artists for the cause. Each guitar pick is placed in such a way to forms a stylized brain and wrap around the central element, the lighthouse. Like the event, I believe the logo provides a colourful burst of positive energy.

It was designed by myself strictly as a volunteer. As an agency we encourage our employees to offer their skills and contribute to projects (or causes) that make the community where we live and work a better place. It's part of our DNA and part of our agency's mission to ‘Spread Brand Love’.” ~ François Giroux, Vice President and Creative Director at HAWK

Saturday, May 3, 2014
Salle Jeanne-de-Valois, Université de Moncton
Events free 11am-5pm
$20+tax for 7pm spectacle de varieté
(all profits go to mental health initiatives)

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