Since 2011, Jonny Boucher has been letting people know, “It’s OK not to be OK.” The powerful slogan is at the heart of his charity Hope for the Day, which promotes proactive suicide prevention through regular outreach and mental health education that focuses on self-expression platforms.
AN EVENING WITH … MASTODON When: 8 p.m. Sept. 9 Where: Metro, 3730 N. Clark Tickets: $75-125 Info: etix.com; (773) 549.4140
“For so long, mental health resources have been so chalky, non-inviting and very isolating … and they really haven’t worked. I feel strongly you have to meet people where they are at,” says Boucher, who previously worked in the music industry and now regularly takes a few minutes to talk onstage at concerts and festivals to promote suicide awareness. “People take influence from the bands they love. And once you open your mouth and start talking about it, there’s this ripple effect.”
While it’s hard to estimate how many people Boucher and his team of 30 have impacted since his charity was established in Chicago six years ago — the organization has a visible presence at local shows and tours annually with Warped, and its founder spends a few months every year spreading awareness in Europe — some of those paying attention were the members of Atlanta metal act Mastodon.
“I remember playing Milwaukee a couple of years ago when [Hope for the Day] came to the show and said we’d love to get together and talk about a collaboration in the future,” recalls Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor of the introduction that happened through the band’s lighting director, Michael Howe (also from Chicago) and a relationship with local roasters Dark Matter Coffee, with whom both the band and Boucher have worked to produce special batches. Dailor says, “We recently started discussing how we could be more involved with the charity and we came up with idea to do a show.”
On Sept. 9 (the day before World Suicide Prevention Day), Mastodon will headline a special concert at Metro with 100 percent of the proceeds benefitting Hope for the Day. It will be the first time the high-profile band, which just made a second appearance on “Game of Thrones” in the latest finale, will headline the North Side club since 2009.
That year was a pinnacle moment as it brought the release of “Crack the Skye,” Mastodon’s ambitious fourth studio album that breathed with emotion and a range of progressive metal and classic rock sounds. The record was in part an homage to Dailor’s sister Skye, who died by suicide at the age of 14. Her memory is also honored by the “Crack the Skye” coffee from Dark Matter and “Crack the Skye” stout from Three Floyds, which will also be available at the show with proceeds given to Hope for the Day, which is founded on a 100 percent public donation model.
“It’s one of those things you wish those never happened, but it did happen and will always be something that’s with you,” says Dailor, who filmed a short video talking about his sister with Boucher that will premiere on Sept.10. “But one of the ways you can sort of weather those horrible storms that come into your life every once in a while is to be creative in some way and channel it into something beautiful hopefully. That’s what we’ve always done; all the guys in the band, we all have used music to get through tough times. Music helps.”
The past year in particular has been critical mass for a music community that has mourned the loss of Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell in May and Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington several weeks later, both by means of suicide. In early August Sinead O’Connor posted a heartbreaking video on Facebook profiling her own struggles with mental illness and suicidal thoughts.
And just two weeks ago, at the MTV Video Music Awards, rapper Logic found a breakthrough moment with a still-talked-about performance of “1-800-273-8255,” his track that highlights the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Fader reported that calls to the help hotline surged by 50 percent after the performance.
“The whole world is suffering. Our friends at the UN say that depression is the No, 1 burdening disease in the world come 2030. That’s around the corner,” says Boucher, who started Hope for the Day after losing 15 people in his own life to suicide. Staggering statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention state that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and each year more than 44,000 people die by suicide, or 121 deaths per day. Globally that number jumps to 800,000 people each year.
“We have to get ahead of it, and the way we do that is to break the silence, which also raises reality of resources,” Boucher continues. “We all live in his bubble where we don’t feel pain and don’t have emotions, and don’t want to expose that. The beauty of us working with Mastodon or Warped Tour or Live Nation is being able to set up these opportunities to educate people. Because one of the biggest failure we have as humans is we haven’t educated ourselves on what our brains are, how they work and how small traumas impact us so greatly, and it goes completely neglected until a crisis happens.”
Beyond just a presence at shows, Hope for the Day offers educational opportunities through free mental-health first aid training in partnership with the National Council for Behavioral Health, often visiting corporate offices for the seminars. Boucher and his team (who are thoroughly trained to de-escalate situations) also provide public speaking platforms at schools, with the military and the LGBTQ community. And the website offers digital outreach with resource finders.
“All this comes down to communication at the end of the day, whether through music, art or whatever platform,” says Boucher. “The best thing we can do is talk about [suicide] and craziest thing we can do is not to talk about it.”
For more information on Hope for the Day, visit hftd.org. If you or someone you know needs help, call (800) 273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.