‘Suicide happens in secret’: B.C. teacher turns tragedy into hip-hop
Trevor Mills' CD "Evidence of a Struggle" is raising awareness and funds for mental health initiatives. April 17, 2016. (Handout).
Vancouver teacher Trevor Mills was in the middle of producing his second hip-hop CD when his older brother died by suicide in the summer of 2013.
Mills’ brother Spencer had been struggling with an undiagnosed mental illness for seven years – and the family had been struggling to navigate the bureaucracy of healthcare system – when he took his own life.
Since then, Mills has raised more than $25,000 for mental health initiatives, put out the album “Evidence of a Struggle” chronicling his brother’s life, created a hip-hop club for high school students, and performed in countless shows around the city to raise awareness about mental health.
“People ask why I’m talking more about suicide – it’s because it happens, and because it happens in secret,” said Mills. “My family was affected by mental illness, and I think every family in some capacity is affected… I wanted to take this tragedy and turn it into something good.”
CTV News first spoke to Mills in January 2015, when the Kitsilano Secondary School teacher was in the midst of putting out “Evidence of a Struggle”. The album officially came out last May, and features four of the students in his popular hip-hop club.
“It’s about raising awareness, and it’s about strength from vulnerability of sharing your story,” said Mills. “The hope is we could use this as a vehicle to generate more funds, and any profits will be going to mental health.”
Mills always wanted to find a way to use music to work with youth – and his high school hip-hop club turned out to be the perfect outlet.
There are 40 members - around a dozen of whom are actively creating their own work – and five students will be competing in B.C.’s spoken word contest Hullabaloo at the end of April.
“Seeing hip-hop culture grow within the kids, and them using it as a vehicle to tell their own stories is one of the cool things that I’ve seen spin off this project,” Mills said.
“The essence of hip-hop is to use what you have at your fingertips… the accessibility or simplicity is why I think certain people are drawn to it.”
And it can also be an outlet for youth experiencing mental health challenges themselves.
Grade 12 student Sage Dodsworth is a member of the hip-hop club, and credits both rap – and Mills – for helping him overcome his depression.
“I was pretty depressed about two years ago and hip-hop and poetry was my outlet, and really helped me get out of that,” said Dodsworth.
“A lot of people told me to never give up, but Mr. Mills really pushed it hard enough that it made a difference to me… Mr. Mills was there all the time.”
Mills says both his brother’s death – and his brother’s life – is a constant source of inspiration in everything he does. The brothers were very close growing up, sharing clothes, overcoming bullying, and bonding over a love of hip-hop and rap.
“My brother was a positive dude, and a huge support for me,” Mills said. “Seeing his life go the way it did and ending so tragically inspires me to be compassionate, empathetic and sensitive to the young people I work with.”
On April 26, Mills is performing songs from “Evidence of a Struggle” at Budgies Burritos in Vancouver, and encourages anyone interested in his work to check out the all-ages event.
“For as long as I live, mental health will be a priority in how I live, how I teach, how I write music,” he added. “It’s forever something I am going to be aware of and contributing too.”
Want to listen to “Evidence of a Struggle”? Download music for free here.