photo by Klaas Guchelaar

My name is Jeff Robson. I’m an obsessive music nerd from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Since 2002, I’ve hosted a show called Tell the Band to Go Home, where I share some of my favourite singer/songwriters.

For as long as I can remember, music has been my best friend, my source of comfort, and main coping mechanism. I’ve also struggled with my mental health all my life. I’ve been surrounded by mental illness and battle with depression and anxiety every single day. I’ve had too many days and nights where life seemed to have no meaning and no hope. Too many times I’ve wished and planned for death, because at times it has seemed like the only relief possible for the dark thoughts that haunt me. For much of my life I felt worthless and like nobody cared about me and nothing would ever get better.

Fortunately, somewhere along the line, I realized that it was all a big lie that my brain was telling me. When you have a mental illness, your vision of things is distorted, and you come to believe that life is meant to be miserable and can’t get any better. The truth of the matter is that love, support, counselling, and medication make a huge difference. Often, it takes someone else to tell you that you’re not alone and that they’re wanting to help you. That’s the message that I hope to send with this show.

It’s also an attempt to break down the stigma and the shame surrounding topics like mental illness and suicide. These remain among the very last true social taboos. We can finally talk openly about things like racism, sex, and religion, but people are still too afraid to be open about their mental health and talk about their struggles.

I am not a doctor or a mental health professional. This is just me, talking to others who might have a story to share. I find it really interesting and helpful with my own issues to hear from others. I hope that you will too.

The show’s name, and much of its inspiration, comes from a singer/songwriter named John Bottomley. He’s responsible for one of my favourite albums of all time, and wrote many, many songs that speak to me strongly. I became a huge fan in 1995, when I first saw the video for a song called You Lose and You Gain on Much Music. I ran out and bought John’s album Blackberry, and it’s been a mainstay in my collection for over 25 years. It’s an album that I never, ever tire of, and one that I believe appeals to just about anybody with an ear for catchy melodies, clever lyrics, and amazing musicianship. It led me to other John Bottomley albums, and I’ve followed his career with great interest ever since.

I never got to meet John Bottomley, and I never saw him in concert. He was kind of a mysterious, mythical figure to me, and I held him in the highest esteem.

Once I started hosting Tell the Band to Go Home in 2002, and eventually started hosting house concerts in 2009, I should have reached out to have John on the show or come and play at my house, but I didn’t. It wasn’t until 2011 when he released the album The Healing Dream that I ever communicated with John. At that time, I’d sent him a note asking if he’d be interested in sending me a copy to play on the show, and I expressed briefly how much his music had meant to me over the years.

That exchange took place on March 8, 2011. Less than a month later, on April 6, John ended his life. I was devastated.

I lost another musical hero to suicide in 2016, when Paul MacLeod died. I was much closer to MacLeod than Bottomley. He released an amazing live album called Tell the Band to Go Home, and it perfectly embodied what I wanted to do with my radio show, so I named the show after it. I knew Paul much better, having interviewed and met him a number of times over the years.

Upon learning about both, I went through a lot of the stages that you’d go through if you’d lost a family member or a friend. I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t understand why. I wondered if there was something I could have done. I had no idea that they were struggling in any way. I wished that I could have talked to them about it.

Obviously, this wasn’t something I could have known about or helped with, but it got me to thinking about what might have helped me when I was feeling hopeless and lost. It also got me to thinking about how well we hide a mental illness from others. In many, many cases, we suffer in silence and nobody knows that there’s a problem until it’s too late.

I knew then that I needed to do something to talk about my experiences and share some of the things that have helped me. The more we can talk about and listen to stories and information about mental illness, the more we’ll come to understand it, and the more we can do about it.

I believe that just about every suicide is preventable, and every life lost needlessly is a tragedy, the problem is recognizing the illness and properly treating it. If we can recognize the warning signs in ourselves and others and know that there are things that can be done, lives will be saved. Together we can spread the word that mental illness is nothing to fear and definitely nothing to be ashamed of.