A new foundation to help music creators living with mental illness and substance-use disorder hopes to help them find a way out of the darkness by sharing their music and story.
Margaret Konopacki is the mother behind project Birdsong, a not-for-profit founded to commemorate “the spirit and memory” of her musician son David Martin who died at the age of 30 from mental illness due to lack of treatment options in Canada.
She is known to many in Canada’s music and media industries as a youthful and now retired publicist whose CV includes having produced and edited documentaries for TV. She is also the widow of pioneering TV producer John Martin who died from cancer in 2006.
On the Birdsong website, she writes:
“Mental Illness is misunderstood; mental illness is often misdiagnosed for many years, and people struggling with mental illness are often shamed, discriminated against, and do not share their situation for fear of being stigmatized and losing independence and often jobs and friends.
“It is our hope through Birdsong, to continue the dialogue, and to help save lives. In today’s world, better solutions already exist but they are not free. The lack of halfway houses, lack of treatment centres, lack of understanding and education, and the long waiting list to get into treatment should no longer be an option — this epidemic is happening in Canada and around the world — including our neighbours in the United States.”
The website is a rich resource for finding solutions and answers for a disease that is only just now losing its ugly stigma.
Birdsong is a very personal project for her and, two years after the loss of her son, she gets misty-eyed when speaking about him.
Sharing her experience, Konopacki writes: “After years of treatment and repeated attempts to get his medication balanced, in the summer of 2017 David waited four months to be voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric facility for help. He was under my care that last summer but by the time he received a bed, he was beyond help. That same summer he had already checked himself into hospital emergency and detox three times after near-death experiences — he had jumped into the Ottawa River in one episode and had almost drowned, but did not remember doing it.
“Finally, in July 2017, David was admitted to the Royal Ottawa Psychiatric Hospital, but upon his release two months later, there were no prospects for a half-way house hence no hope for his future. He died 48 hours after discharge one block from Parliament Hill. ‘Death due to mental illness’ was listed as the cause. There were no phone calls to me, his mother, after his sudden and violent death — not even a follow-up call from the hospital after being informed of what had happened.
David was an exceptionally brilliant person with a high IQ and a vast passion for music, especially writing and performing his own songs. He was never far from his guitar, keyboard or computer, pouring over new creations. Unfortunately, David never realized his dream of releasing and performing his music to an audience. He died shortly after finishing a library of unique songs that are a testament to his spirit, talent, and fragility.”
Continuing: “In a society that has a better understanding of what it is like to be a person with mental illness, and that understands what a family goes through with a loved one who struggles in this way, I believe David would still be alive. He would not have felt the unbearable isolation so many like him experience. He needed a village — not just a mom — who was there for him. We as a society failed David as we fail so many others in this country because being a person living with mental illness is so badly misunderstood.”
The initial funding is coming from her pocket as she actively reaches out to organizations and funding bodies to promote her campaign, and the plan is to set up an advisory council that can adjudicate submissions that will be turned into professional songs and videos that will be promoted at the Foundation’s expense using various platforms.
Having the last word, Konopacki says, " Birdsong is about creating hope and spreading awareness about people who live with mental illness including substance use disorder. The emphasis here is in 'creating hope'."
Everything you need to know about the Foundation can be found on the Birdsong website and blogs.
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org