Canadian Armed Forces drummer adds voice to mental health awareness (video)
Piping and drumming will be represented as part of “Let’s Talk Day” in Canada on January 28th with the story of Warrant Officer Joe Kiah, a drumming instructor and player with the Canadian Armed Forces Royal Canadian Air Force Pipes & Drums.
Underwritten by Bell Canada, the Canadian telecommunications company, Let’s Talk is an annual event that promotes awareness and action to fight the stigma, improve access to care, support research and lead by example in workplace mental health.
Kiah was part of the military recovery effort after the horrific crash of Swiss Air 111 near Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, in September 1998, with the loss of 229 lives. He has been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, and he has been able to continue his career in the military and pipe band competition as a playing instructor with 8 Wing CFB Trenton Pipes & Drums and a member of the Grade 1 Toronto Police Pipe Band.
Kiah’s challenges are part of the Canadian Armed Forces’ heightened awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.
“Don’t be ashamed, it’s not your fault. You are not weak,” Kiah advised anyone who feels they might be experiencing mental health problems. “Most of all, don’t keep it in. That’s when unreasonable self-doubt and bad thoughts develop. Family and friends are always there for you. Reach out and give them a shot. You may think they will look at you differently or as weak but that is not the case. Those same people will be in your corner every step of the way. They will help you make that dreaded step into that doctor’s office.”
“Joe and I have been great friends since the day we met 25 years ago at a Military Tattoo in Gander, Newfoundland,” said Captain Fraser Clark, an accomplished piper with the Canadian Armed Forces’ communication department. “I first learned about Joe’s struggles from him when we were performing at the Festivale Internationale Musique Militaire de Quebec in 2011. I was moved by his personal bravery, candour and his descriptions of how PTSD affected him given his involvement with the recovery operation of the Swiss Air Crash in 1998. Over the years, Joe was there for me when I needed help. You couldn’t have a more solid friend than Joe Kiah. He’s truly one of a kind and to be honest, we could all use a friend like him.”
Clark approached Kiah and worked with the chain of command to tell his story in a video created in December, fully endorsed by the Canadian Armed Forces Senior Psychiatrist.
“My biggest supporters outside my family and the military are my ‘pipe band family.’ Once I opened up they were there through it all. They have my back to this day. Now, throw in the love of our music, the joy of playing either alone or with the band – well, that tops off my recovery.” – Joe Kiah
“I know that many of my colleagues who served in Afghanistan are coming forward in greater numbers to seek help as a result of their suffering,” Clark continued. “Given the number of pipers and drummers who belong to the armed forces, Joe’s story could resonate with pipes|drums readers and, hopefully, encourage those who may be suffering to get help.”
Kiah is a frequent guest speaker about mental health at various military bases across Canada, and he credits piping and drumming and its community with playing a big role in his recovery.
“My biggest supporters outside my family and the military are my ‘pipe band family,'” Kiah said. “Once I opened up they were there through it all. They have my back to this day. Now, throw in the love of our music, the joy of playing either alone or with the band – well, that tops off my recovery. It is a great place to go to help work through some tough days. There were bad days I would have and then going into practice with my band would help me ground myself. When you are thinking about your playing and enjoying the music, you are not thinking about the bad things.”
Legendary pipers Bill Livingstone and Jim McGillvray have openly discussed their own mental health challenges, and pipes|drums has worked to bring the issue to the fore. Part 4 of the pipes|drums Interview with McGillivray includes an extensive and frank discussion on the subject.
Here’s a preview of the video that will be part of Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 28th.