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Mysterious Barricades spreads awareness of mental health issues and suicide

By Troy Hasselman, September 9 2019 —

Suicide and mental health issues are enduring problems at the University of Calgary and campuses across Canada. You’d be hard pressed to find a student that hasn’t been impacted by either in some form. One of the biggest obstacles towards people gaining treatment for these issues is simply not knowing the resources available to them and not knowing how to talk about these issues or having a space to talk about them.

Mysterious Barricades — a cross-country concert promoting suicide awareness — will be performed on the University of Calgary Campus on Sept. 10 — World Suicide Prevention Day. The concert will be presented by the U of C School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), Campus Mental Health Strategy and Student Wellness Services.

Mysterious Barricades is something that we’ve been doing on our campus for three years but it’s been around for four or five years. It’s a concert organized by Elizabeth Turnbull and her organization, Mysterious Barricades,” says Andrew Szeto, director of the Campus Mental Health Strategy. “The concert on our campus is being held on Sept. 10 and will be streamed nationally on Sept. 14. What happens on Sept. 14 is quite neat and it’s dawn to dusk with 15 cities across Canada participating showing from the east coast to the west coast for 15 hours straight.”

The concert itself will involve a variety of different musical styles, forms and ensembles throughout.

“It will be a variety of music that will begin with land acknowledgements and “the Honour Song” performed by Elder Rod Hunter, we’ll have the Mysterious Barricades theme played on harpsichord by Neil Cockburn,” says Laura Hynes, assistant professor with the School of Creative and Performing Arts. “Then we’ll have a variety of ensembles from string quartets, to string ensembles, to saxophone ensembles, to voice ensembles and a number of solo singers. We’ll be ending with a group which focuses on North Indian Classical raga music.”

There has been progress in recent years in the conversation surrounding mental illness and suicide, especially on university campuses, but there still remains a great deal of work to be done. 

“The discourse on campuses has progressed a lot and this is mirrored in Canadian society. We do talk about mental health much more freely as a society and on campus as well with the Campus Mental Health Strategy. I think we’ve done a lot to reduce stigma, increase services, more people are seeking help,” Szeto says. “But there are other things we can do on our campuses such as getting the message about what programs exist on campus to our students, faculty and staff so they know what resources are available to them. We could also look at the more structural and cultural things that relate to it. We can create more virtual and physical space for connection — loneliness is quite impactful for mental health on our campus and campuses across the country.”

Hynes also sees work to be done towards the awareness of mental health issues and sees the concert as an important part of spreading this awareness.

“I think there is still a lot of work to do in terms of destigmatizing mental health and being proactive about health and creating a more nuanced conversation around mental health. We’re so used to getting things around these little bits and bites, the subject has visibility but it’s sometimes a bit oversimplified. The hope for this isn’t just to raise awareness but to get nuanced conversations going,” Hynes says. “My hope is to cast the net of mental health awareness ever wider. I’m happy the conversation is already started, but we’ve only just begun.”

Hynes sees music and art as especially important to the process of understanding one another and starting conversations surrounding important social issues such as mental health and suicide awareness.

“Art and music have this wonderful way of cracking open our imaginations and our emotions, letting light into those cracks,” Hynes says. “Our empathy buttons are activated. Attending a concert is also a special kind of community experience. You are in a hall listening together, breathing together, laughing and applauding together. That in itself, that kind of sharing something ephemeral in a moment, can be healing.”

Mysterious Barricades will play at 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at the Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall in the Rozsa Centre on the U of C campus with a reception to follow. Tickets are free and available through the SCPA website.

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