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‘Metal for Life is a place where I can be myself’: Mental health support groups and events return for metal music fans

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Rock on: Chris Mulholland, Gillian Kansanaho, Ahti Kansanaho, James Loveday, Gareth Ruddock and Aaron Cullen

Rock on: Chris Mulholland, Gillian Kansanaho, Ahti Kansanaho, James Loveday, Gareth Ruddock and Aaron Cullen

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Rock on: Chris Mulholland, Gillian Kansanaho, Ahti Kansanaho, James Loveday, Gareth Ruddock and Aaron Cullen

Founders of an initiative providing mental health support and advice for metal music fans across Northern Ireland has said that they are pleased to see a return to live music and their all-important peer support groups.

Metal for Life NI is a non-profit charitable organisation which supports the mental health of metal music fans across the region.

The group was founded in honour of Dani Kansanaho, who tragically died through suicide in October 2017, aged 23.

Dani’s death sent shockwaves throughout the metal community in Northern Ireland.

His parents, Gillian and Ahti Kansanaho, knew how much metal music meant to their only son and so wanted to provide a source of support for others struggling to reach out for help.

“Depression and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone at any time, and we quickly realised that many other metal fans suffer from mental illness,” said Gillian.

“The general public often incorrectly thinks that metal music and lifestyle choices are to blame for mental illness.

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“In fact, the opposite is true, and we are challenging this stigma head on.

“Our target group is rock and metal fans of any age, within Northern Ireland. Our goal is to preserve life.”

Gillian and Ahti founded ‘Metal for Life NI’ in January 2018, the first of its kind here.

The charity aims to provide mental health support for rock and metal fans through peer support groups with the aim towards suicide prevention.

Gillian said that the peer support groups, which are confidential, free-of-charge and require no referrals or waiting lists, have been “very successful” in helping those in the metal community struggling with their mental health.

“We often feel more comfortable talking to other people who have similar views and interests and these groups have provided a feeling of belonging, hope and strength,” she said.

“Through good communication, respect and inclusivity, we are better equipped to handle life events and through the peer support meetings attendees become inspired and encouraged by others through various self-help strategies, they are very much person-centred.”

One attendee said: “Metal for Life has given me my voice back. It’s a place where I can be myself and talk to like-minded people. I can talk about anything without fear of judgement. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

“Despite loving metal and going to a lot of gigs, I don’t know a lot of people from the metal community. The group has helped me get to know more people, which has been a huge boost for my confidence,” said another.

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Dani Kansanaho who died in October 2017

Dani Kansanaho who died in October 2017

Dani Kansanaho who died in October 2017

In just three years Metal for Life NI has become fully constituted and is run by a board of trustees, supported with help from Impact Network Northern Ireland and the Public Health Agency as well as local and international bands and the metal music industry in Northern Ireland.

Trustee of the charity, Gareth Ruddock, said that the initiative has overcome many hurdles over the past 20 months and had to move their peer support groups online to adapt to the challenges of lockdown and the pandemic.

Just this week, however, they will see the return of their ever-popular live shows with their first organised gig in almost two years at the Limelight in Belfast.

The event is being put together by the Distortion Project who are big supporters of Metal for Life and were first established 21 years ago in January 2000.

The Distortion Project is Belfast’s leading heavy metal concert promoter and tour booker, specialising in both national and international touring acts, as well as fostering and promoting Northern Ireland’s burgeoning and diverse heavy rock and heavy metal scene.

On Saturday, November 20, local bands Skypilot, Haint and Psychedelanaut will be performing at Limelight where Metal for Life volunteers will also be in attendance.

They will be able to provide information on their services in person as well as selling branded merchandise in order to raise funds for the vital work they do.

Manager of the Distortion Project James Loveday said that he is “excited” to see a return to live music.

“I’m delighted to be able to host the cream of Northern Irish metal bands once again,” he said.

“It’s been quite a journey to get back to this position and I intend to enjoy every single second of it going forward.

“Next year is shaping up to be my busiest year yet with plenty of cool things already announced and in the pipeline.”

Mr Loveday said that Metal for Life NI is an “incredibly important part of the rock and metal community in Northern Ireland”.

He explained that he first met Gillian and Ahti through Dani and his band Shrouded.

“The band played a few of my regular Limelight 2 shows on Saturdays and they came to the majority of those gigs,” he said.

“I was very impressed with the support they gave Dani and the band, and it was clear that they are passionate rock and metal fans themselves.”

Mr Loveday said that “metal is more than music to us, it’s a passion, a vocation and a way of life”.

“We have a strong sense of community spirit and I know the people that come to the shows have missed it as much, if not more, than those that are involved in the industry,” he said.

“They’ve had to deal with the stresses and strains of their own lives alongside the implications of Covid for them and their families.”

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Gillian Kansanaho who founded Metal for Life NI with her husband Ahti

Gillian Kansanaho who founded Metal for Life NI with her husband Ahti

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Gillian Kansanaho who founded Metal for Life NI with her husband Ahti

Gareth said that the metal community in Northern Ireland have “struggled massively” with the lack of live events since lockdown began.

“Many of our clients rely on these for their social interactions and entertainment, but it’s also for more than that; it’s where their own people are, where they can be themselves and express themselves without judgement or fear of ridicule,” he said.

“It has been a struggle losing the human connection that we all look for and need. The impact of this situation on our clients’ mental health has been very apparent.

“It’s been very hard for all of us, for whom, live music is a way of life. Not to mention those that have lost livelihoods as a result of the lockdowns.”

At live events, Metal for Life NI also help to raise awareness of the vital work they do, while also being able to fundraise and provide much-needed support for those who need it.

“Through the use of technology, we were able to adapt and continue to offer their services online but welcome the return for live events,” said Gareth.

“It has been hard for many of our clients, watching large attendances return to sporting events, outdoor events, bars and restaurants.

“So many people have lost employment and purpose throughout the lockdown and this has contributed greatly to the declining mental health of those involved.

“The rock and metal scene in NI is not just about local music, but it’s also where members of that community socialise, relax and can be themselves among their own kind, without judgment or ridicule. For many, the scene is a way of life,” he added.

“While there may still be a sense of trepidation among some about the potential danger of close proximity, most will surely be thankful that we can finally get back out there and see, hear and enjoy all the friends, bands, promoters, venue staff, security, road crew, tour managers, merch sellers, sound engineers, loud guitars and tinnitus that we missed so much!”

If you are performing or organising an upcoming gig and you would like Metal for Life to attend, they can do so free of charge and can be contacted via email or social media.

Metal For Life NI peer support groups take place in Belfast twice a month and in Ballyclare once a month.

They are free to attend and welcome to everyone regardless of gender, sexuality or background.

For more information or to register for the peer support sessions you can do so by emailing info@metalforlifeni.co.uk, visiting their website www.metalforlifeni.co.uk or following Metal for Life NI on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter


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