Mental illness is something that affects just about everyone, either directly or indirectly. However, we often refrain from discussing it. The stigma and taboo of subjects surrounding mental health is something Elizabeth Turnbull, a faculty member at the U of A, wishes to change through the power of music!
In 2015 Elizabeth lost her husband to mental illness and as the anniversary of his passing approached she felt a desire to do something to lift her spirits and honor his memory. She knew almost instantly the only thing she wanted was to hear her friends make music. However, with her friends spread across the country, it would be impossible to gather them all together for a performance. This complication led to inspiration an 18 hour, 13 city concert. The ideas didn’t stop there…!
Elizabeth wanted a song to be played at all 13 concerts as a way of connecting them, so she chose Couperin’s composition, “Les Barricades Mystérieuses.” She revealed this was one of her husband’s favorite songs to play and he had learned to play it without using any sheet music! However, after this song was chosen Elizabeth realized the name “Mysterious Barricades” contained substantial significance in terms of discussing mental health.
For Elizabeth, “mysterious barricades” symbolizes the indefinite grey area separating mental health from mental illness. It’s what occurs in this grey area, where someone transitions from being healthy to unwell, that people are reluctant to talk about because they feel it somehow signifies failure. However, Elizabeth believes many of the negative connotations associated with mental illness stem from the language used to discuss it. For example, when we talk about suicide we often use “committed” as a descriptor, but we wouldn’t say that someone “committed” a heart attack. Therefore, Elizabeth strongly believes that mental illness should be dealt with in a similar fashion because it is just that: an illness. This is one of the many issues Elizabeth Turnbull hopes to address with the Mysterious Barricades concerts, through creating a safe and open environment where people feel free to talk about their mental health.
Elizabeth Turnbull received the Alumni Excellence Award this year for her work in initiating and directing this meaningful event. This is an award which she gladly accepts because it means her cause is receiving both recognition and validation from the university. This September 10th, which is World Suicide Prevention Day, please come contribute to creating a world open to discussing mental health.