Hailey (left), along with her friend Laura Appleton-Jones, have launched a YouTube channel dedicated to talking about mental health. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

Hailey and the Brainstormers take new approach to mental illness education

One local puppeteer looks to break stigma by leveraging YouTube and community support

One local woman is hoping a foray into the world of YouTube – alongside a special puppet friend – will help remove stigmas surrounding mental health and mental illness.

“It was actually Hailey’s idea,” says Laura Appleton-Jones, looking down at the large puppet draped across the table at the Campbell River office of the BC Schizophrenia Society. “And she dragged me along.”

Appleton-Jones has been puppeteering for a number of years. She had done a puppet show called “The Kids on the Block,” where puppets with different disabilities talk about their lives at elementary schools, “and I did that for a bunch of years, maybe 20 years ago, and when I was applying for a totally different job here, I happened to put that on my resume and it caught someone’s attention,” she says with a laugh.

Hailey hasn’t been doing it for nearly as long, but she’s older than she looks. Like Appleton-Jones, Hailey got her start in education, as well, back in the mid-2000s at elementary schools around Campbell River.

“Hailey and a few of her puppet friends were doing a skit that involved Hailey having a psychosis and her brother and her friend going to find her some help,” Appleton-Jones says. “She goes to the hospital for a couple of months and comes back to school and now she has to deal with the other kids who are bullying her and teasing her about her mental illness.”

Slowly but surely, the “kids” in the skit become educated about mental illness through Hailey’s journey – and the non-puppet kids in the audience did, as well.

Unfortunately, the elementary school tours came to an end due to a lack of available puppeteers, but it morphed into Hailey doing some shows on Shaw TV, where she did half-hour interviews with people with mental illness or who work in the field.

“When that had gone through its little cycle,” Appleton-Jones says, “she just didn’t want it to end. She’s still determined to get the word out there, so she came up with the idea of the YouTube channel.”

The channel is called Hailey and the Brainstormers and the production of the videos is funded through the Schizophrenia Society.

“We had a few thousand dollars put aside for equipment, so we did a lot of research in terms of the best equipment we could get, and we work with volunteers who have mental illness to make it all happen,” she says. “It’s a group effort. It was a group inspiration and we come up with a lot of group ideas.”

Right now, the channel is in its early stages – they’ve put the Shaw TV episodes of Hailey’s Comments up there just to get it populated with a few things people can watch – but they have been in production on new content for a few months and hope to soon have videos rolling out weekly.

“We’ve got a bunch of footage and we’ve got about eight little films ready to go,” Appleton-Jones says. “We wanted to have a back-up of a bunch of them before we started so that we can roll them out consistently.”

The films themselves, she says, will fall into a few categories.

“It’ll be anything from people talking about a specific mental illness – likely people who have that mental illness who can talk about what it’s like for them. Then there’s a section on creative expression, where people with lived experience with mental illness reading poetry or playing music, making art. Then there is a coping skills section where people will talk about anything from mindfulness to medication to supportive relationships and what those mean to people – personal stories about how people manage and what’s worked for them. Then there is a coping skills section where people will talk about anything from mindfulness to medication to supportive relationships and what those mean to people – personal stories about how people manage and what’s worked for them.

But our aim here isn’t just to teach people about what different illnesses are or how to get help for them,” Appleton-Jones says. “It’s broader than that. It’s about helping people understand that one in four or one in five people will experience some sort of mental illness in their lifetime, so if it’s not you, it’s someone you care about.

“There’s no us and them. It’s us. So let’s make it a friendlier, more compassionate world where people don’t have any added shame that maybe stops them from getting the help they need or make their struggles bigger.”

Keep up with Hailey and the Brainstormers by subscribing to their YouTube channel here.

If you’ve got any ideas, skills or resources that might be of help, contact Appleton-Jones at by email at crpuppets@hotmail.com or the Schizophrenia Society at 250-914-3059.