Stephanie Mahé holds six bags of yellow and orange ribbons, smiling at the hard work from the four residents at Ottewell Manor who volunteered their time and efforts for the ribbons that are a part of international World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10. The residents at Ottewell Manor are no strangers to the struggles of mental health issues and Mahé explains that the residents are able to appreciate what these ribbons means on a more personal level.
“In four days, the resident volunteers made 520 ribbons,” Mahé says. “They really love ribbon making. It’s something that not only gets them out of their rooms, it also brings them together to work on something proactive and they can share their efforts with each other.”
In 2016, Mahé, her sister-in-law Elizabeth Turnbull (Edmonton based opera singer and University of Alberta voice instructor), and a group of their friends assembled a collection of Canada-wide concerts for international World Suicide Prevention Day, calling their events Mysterious Barricades Concert Society. The concerts, which included an eclectic mix of opera singers, drummers, jazz performers, quintets, choirs, and aboriginal performers, was livestreamed around the world. Quickly following the concert’s success came audiences and performers excited to for next year’s concert, something that the Mysterious Barricades Concert Society wasn’t sure was going to happen.
“Two and a half years ago, my brother died by suicide,” Mahé explains. “Mysterious Barricades was an event to try and help my sister-in-law [Turnbull] and me heal through music. With all the excitement around the event, we knew we had to keep it going.”
The event was named after Mahé’s brother’s favourite piece of music, “Les Barricades Mysterieuse” by François Couperin. Mahe explains that her brother was so moved by the composition that he actually built his own harpsichord a couple of years before his passing.
Last year’s concert saw 12 cities throughout Canada take part and stream free concerts as part of the awareness campaign to end the stigma around mental illness. This year’s concert will see 15 cities holding concerts, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, across to Victoria, British Columbia, with performers from notable performers such as Ontario based baritone Russell Braun and University of Victoria tenor Benjamin Butterfield. In all, the livestream will go on for 21 hours with performances starting at 2:00 a.m. Mountain Time, and all performance videos will be available on the Mysterious Barricades website for a week after World Suicide Prevention Day.
“The performers are all friends from the music community and they along with all the livestreaming technicians are volunteering their time for World Suicide Prevention Day,” says Mahé. “People kept reaching out, wanting to be a part of this event and the entire operation remains all volunteer based.”
The idea for Mahé to involve the residents at Ottewell Manor (where she works as an office supervisor) stemmed from two sources: the first being that the residents used to make ribbons for breast cancer awareness and were very disappointed when that volunteer program ended for them, and the second being the close connection between Mysterious Barricades and the mental health focus driving Ottewell Manor.
“There are people living here who were physical therapists, some have Master’s degrees,” says Mahé. “These are bright and intelligent people who have so much to give still and, just like my brother, mental illness took so much away from them.”
Mahé looks ahead to the future and sees what benefits international World Suicide Prevention Day and events like Mysterious Barricades can bring. Five years from now, she hopes to see a 24-hour staffed safe house open that can be available to people who struggle with mental illness on an emergency basis.
“A place like this will help show people struggling that they are not alone,” says Mahé. “People often spend evenings sitting in hospital hallways because they need help but hospitals are at capacity. Ottewell Manor has been lucky to have such a great relationship with Alberta Health Services, but not everyone is so lucky. By having these discussions and sharing these stories we can address mental illness more and work to end the stigma.”