Cat’s Track #17 – Christopher Friesen
Welcome to Cat’s Track Episode 17, with guest Christopher Friesen.
Christopher Friesen is an Edmonton-based tenor, composer, and alumni of the University of Alberta’s Bachelor of Music program. As a musician, Christopher is always striving to connect with others, exploring the complex worlds of mental health and suicide through the lens of music. He has composed for choirs throughout Canada with recent performances by the Kokopelli Choir Association, Winnipeg New Music Festival, and Mysterious Barricades: a cross-Canada concert series for suicide awareness, prevention, and hope. His music has been described as containing “a simple beauty that naturally expresses emotion in a deep and meaningful way.”
Christopher’s journey with mental health began at an early age when his mother was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2 disorder. His first-hand experience in supporting someone battling mental illness sparked a passion to see mental health taken seriously, without stigma, and given the resources and funding it deserves. Christopher has used the story of his mother’s condition and eventual loss to suicide as a way to bring awareness, start an open dialogue on mental health, and create meaningful change in the world around him.
When not sharing his story, Christopher proudly supports Catherine Brownlee Inc. (CBI) as an administrator and social media guru. An active vocalist in Edmonton’s choral music scene, Christopher currently sings with Pro Coro Canada, Òran, and The Organics. When not rehearsing, Christopher can be found enjoying a quiet evening at home with a glass of wine, good food, and his loving partner.
I lost my mother to suicide two years ago. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2 during my childhood, and for years I watched her struggle to get the help she needed. She was passed from physician to physician (they either lacked mental health knowledge or thought her case wasn’t severe enough), was put on a constantly changing series of medications, and struggled to find the resources she needed just to cope.
During her last six months in Calgary, she was in the hospital nearly every two weeks, with resources either unavailable to her, at capacity, or cost prohibitive. During her last hospitalization in September 2018, we had to beg to have her admitted, despite my mother being very aware that she was a danger to herself and would take her life if given the chance. She would be released from the hospital after a three-day stay because, despite still experiencing extreme depression and suicidal ideation, she appeared fine. One day after her release she took her life.
There is still so much stigma that surrounds mental health and suicide. There are some amazing resources available, but most are stretched so thinly because of high demand, or come with a hefty price tag. I know that there are many individuals and families experiencing similar situations to my mother’s, and it needs to stop. Stigma has no place in our community. Mental illness is a real problem. No one should feel their only way out is suicide.
Let’s talk! Let’s connect and share our stories. Our words have meaning; they have power. We are not alone.