More than a thousand people crowded into a St. John's theatre on Wednesday night to demand a more serious approach to improving services for those living with mental illness. 

Spurred by St. John's Centre MHA Gerry Rogers, the Community Coalition for Mental Health held what it called "the Launch" at Holy Heart Theatre.

"It's a movement that appears to be gaining momentum," said Rogers, who was moved to hold a public meeting about mental illness after hearing performers Andy Jones and Mary-Lynn Bernard speak out about the life and suicide of their son, Louis Bernard, earlier this year. 

'Happily it does feel like there is the beginning of a sea change in attitude and understanding' - Andy Jones

Jones spoke again on the issue Wednesday night, telling the audience about the illness that his son dealt with for years. 

"Surely he is not different because his illness was mental rather than physical," Jones said of his son's obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

"[Louis] often cried for himself. He also cried for all of us. When you see so-called street people or friends or acquaintances or strangers who are somewhat wounded, some temporarily and some in the longer term, treat them with the love that you have for your nearest and dearest," Jones said. 

Jones told the full house at the theatre that he was delighted to see open discussion about mental illness. 

"Happily it does feel like there is the beginning of a sea change in attitude and understanding. This necessary and thrilling round, as well, is only the first step," he said. 

New video launched

The event featured the launch of a new video featuring a song by singer Amelia Curran, who has spoken openly about her own mental health issues, as well as numerous well-known people in Newfoundland and Labrador, including Republic of Doyle stars Allan Hawco and Krystin Pellerin and author Michael Crummey. 

Grant Fitzpatrick, who runs a program with the Canadian Mental Health Association that educates students about mental illness, said the coalition wants to open up a dialogue with many different groups of people - and the government. 

"This is the starting point," he said. 

"We are hoping  to get a collaboration between all the grassroots groups and government to come up with a strategic plan to help all levels of people in the mental health system, right from elementary school, junior high [to] adults and seniors who are dealing with major mental health issues," said Fitzpatrick. 

"It's time. It all needs to be addressed." 

Many of those who attended had stories of their own to share.  

Helen Morris-Hillier, who has housed young people with mental illnesses for almost a decade, said the health care system needs to change. 

"I have taken many youths to to hospital and have not been pleased at all with the lack of respect they get and the lack of treatment they get," she said. 

The new coalition is calling on the Newfoundland and Labrador government to improve services for people living with mental illnesses. It also is calling for an all-party committee to talk about mental health.