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Kids Help Phone’s New Mental Health Anthem Is A Certified Hit

Serena Ryder, Leela Gilday, Shawn Desman, and Haviah Mighty among the 50+ Canadian artists featured on “What I Wouldn’t Do (North Star Calling).”

by Molly Labenski

Photo by Daniel Dortas

Kids Help Phone has been a staple mental health resource in Canada since its inception in 1989, offering a variety of counselling services that cater to an ever-changing youth demographic. The goal has always been to make the service accessible to as many kids as possible, but as the organization faces new challenges, they’re hoping a multi-million-dollar musical fundraiser can be part of the solution.

In an effort to address the increasing need for accessible, on-demand mental health services, KHP created Feel Out Loud and turned to up-and-coming Canadian musicians to help them amplify their message. More than 50 artists signed on to record “What I Wouldn’t Do (North Star Calling),” a collaborative single with an accompanying music video to create awareness and raise funds for the hotline. Think “We Are the World,” but more Canadian in every way. 

There are veteran artists involved including Serena Ryder (pictured above with producer Bob Ezrin), Donovan Woods, Fefe Dobson, and Shawn Desman, but the majority are up-and-comers, such as Alessia Cara, LOONY, The Reklaws, Boslen, Crash Adams, RALPH, Katherine Li, Haviah Mighty, and many more. The diverse cast of artists is no accident: KHP observes that young people who experience racism are some of their most distressed callers. Each artist was interviewed and some opened up about their own struggles, with many admitting to disclosing this type of personal information for the very first time—a similar experience to many users of KHP, as the organization says that 71 per cent of their callers share something during their conversation that they have never shared with anyone else before. 

(L-R) LOONY, Haviah Mighty, SACHA, Ralph, Lilyisthatyou, Shawn Desman, Zoe McMillan, Katherine Li, and Nicolina. (Photo: Sam Santos)

Feel Out Loud wanted to focus on young artists from all genres to emulate youth talking to youth and to cultivate a diverse community of awareness and support. When asked why she wanted to be involved, soulful singer LOKRE said, “As an artist, so much of what I do revolves around expressing my emotion. If adding my voice to this campaign inspires one person to do the same and feel less alone in that, it’s all worthwhile.” The campaign name itself emphasizes the importance of reaching out about mental health struggles and the expression of those feelings, big or small. 

The campaign launched on February 24 with the release of the single and was followed up with a music video release on March 2. The song itself is a mashup of Serena Ryder’s “What I Wouldn’t Do” and Indigenous singer-songwriter Leela Gilday’s “North Star Calling” (Dene Nation). It was overseen by beloved producer Bob Ezrin and includes a bridge sung by an Indigenous children’s choir that was recorded in Yellowknife. Feel Out Loud will also be releasing a playlist with songs by contributing artists that speak on mental health, such as “Bedrock” by Wild Rivers, “Confident” by Sacha and Tyler Shaw, and “Self Talk” by LOKRE. 

The Yellowknife Children’s Choir and Leela Gilday

“Kids Help Phone walks the walk,” says Hayley Lennox of Loft Entertainment, who is producing the Feel Out Loud music video and is part of the team that is spearheading the campaign. “They see the needs and they accommodate, and they are continuing to advance and get the necessary training for meaningful online work.”

The project is also “a metaphor for peace,” says Lennox. “Behind the scenes, we’ve brought three major labels together who normally would be massive competitors. Universal Music Canada is distributing the song, Warner Music is doing radio, and Sony’s covering marketing.” The collaboration of so many labels and artists highlights the creative community’s recognition of mental health support as a critical and necessary resource. 

The main issue KHP faces today is their ability to manage the volume of calls they receive. Sometimes, callers have to wait on hold for up to five minutes. While this may sound like a short wait-time, in a moment of crisis it could be the difference maker. The Feel Out Loud campaign aims to raise $250 million to expand their services, resources, and availability, so that children and teens do not have to wait to receive the life changing support they need.

You can listen to “What I Wouldn’t Do (North Star Calling)” by Artists for Feel Out Loud on all music streaming platforms. For more information or to donate, visit kidshelpphone.ca and if you are in need of support, please call 1-800-668-6868.