In front of an audience of about 60 people, Elsie Morden stood alone with her guitar. But for the past five years, she’s been using it to bring people closer together.
The room was silent as she strummed the first chords of “Outsiders,” a song she has performed for hundreds of children since 2012.
The 22-year-old singer-songwriter has visited 500 schools across Canada on her No Time for That Anti-Bullying Tour. On Wednesday, she was one of eight Nova Scotians honoured as “Difference Makers” by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the Canadian Museum of Immigration in Halifax.
Morden writes and co-produces all of her own music, which tell of the mental and physical bullying she suffered as a child and teenager. Morden, who grew up in British Columbia and Manitoba and now lives in Nova Scotia, went to eight different schools as a child. She constantly dealt with feelings of isolation. It wasn’t until she was in high school that Morden began putting those feelings into song, and she hasn’t stopped since.
“Music was my outlet during hard times growing up, and when I was in my Grade 12 year I realized that there were probably so many people out there feeling the same way that I was,” Elsie told the audience.
She emailed local schools and started speaking with small groups of students, to an encouraging response. “I had students coming up to me afterwards telling me that I was an inspiration,” Morden said. “I realized that I had to keep doing what I was doing.”
As a part of Canada 150, the Centre asked for nominations from across the country to find those leading the fight against mental health stigma.
The response was overwhelming. The Centre received more than 3,700 nominations in three months and was tasked with selecting 150 recipients.
“I’m amazed we brought it all together, to be honest,” Sandi Treliving, co-chair of the 150 Leading Canadians for Mental Health national committee, told The Signal.
Dexter Nyuurnibe, a member of the nominations committee, told the crowd the number indicates that Canadians do care about mental health “and the people who are here prove that to you.”
On tour, Morden performs and speaks with students about how to deal with loneliness, anxiety and depression; all things she deals with herself.
“I think being able to tell my story through music is what really captivates students because everybody loves music and it has the amazing ability to heal,” Morden told The Signal after the ceremony.
And one of her fellow recipients has taken note.
Starr Dobson, CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, awarded a grant to Morden’s charity, No Time For That Anti-Bullying Society. The money will bring Morden’s show to 20 schools across Nova Scotia this month.
“We’re very excited to work with Elsie,” Dobson said, after congratulating Morden on her performance.
This external funding is key, as Morden offers her performances to schools free of charge.
“We don’t charge schools for the presentations because we don’t want funds to be a barrier,” she said.
Morden said many of the schools she attended as a child didn’t have a budget to bring in performers or advocates, so she wants to share her message with as many kids as possible.
“It is so important for kids, specifically, to know that they’re not alone and that they need to speak up about whatever they’re struggling with,” she said.
“The more that people talk about it, the better.”