Writer, musician and mental health advocate Arlen Rundvall.

Writer, musician and mental health advocate Arlen Rundvall.

South Surrey songwriter’s Christmas song revisits memories of the psych ward

Arlen Rundvall provides a ‘a voice for the voiceless’ through his music

Those already complaining of being inundated by the ‘same old Christmas music’ may not have heard the most unusual song of this holiday season – or any other season for that matter.

Christmas In The Psych Ward, by Peninsula singer-songwriter, author, speaker and mental health advocate Arlen Rundvall, takes traditional Christmas imagery and upends it – by literally placing it in the context of a psychiatric ward.

The recently dropped single, as produced by Rundvall and Peter Kilgour of Beat Productions – available on Spotify and other music streaming services, and YouTube – is an edgy and grimly ironic take on typical Christmas themes set to a rock beat.

“Jingle, jingle the med cart goes, careful ‘else they increase your dose…locked doors keep us from fleeing, Fred claims he’s the divine being…”

Despite the apparent irony, the song has a serious underlying purpose, Rundvall maintains.

“Mental illness claims too many lives at any time of year,” he said.

“It can be especially hard for people at the holiday season,” he added, noting that it’s important to be kind to one another.

“Reach out for help,” he said. “Find comfort in knowing that you are not the only one who suffers.”

Rundvall certainly knows whereof he speaks. During his 20s, the author of The Bipolar Guide to the Gift and Fracture: A Memoir was hospitalized many times in psychiatric wards.

Some 35 years after his first hospitalization, he said, he’s still on his ‘mental health journey’ – but has learned ways to stay out of hospital, for which he credits the help of many others.

It’s help that he now extends to others with mental health challenges, he said, noting the mission behind his writing, speaking and music is to use his creativity and tenacity to inspire them and lead them to better health.

“Consider this a voice for the voiceless,” he said.

Christmas In The Psych Ward, he recalled, started with a few lines that came to him in a typical session exploring potential melodies and lyrics on his guitar.

But it soon became an outlet for his memories of his own psychiatric ward experiences, he said.

“There was always a cross section of community in the ward,” he said.

“Some (were there) voluntarily and some involuntarily. They were all ages and backgrounds – all facing similar and different challenges of the mind.

“The song is dedicated to anyone who has ever been in the psych ward – and the staff who are trying their best to help,” he said.

“I’d also like to offer thanks to all the courageous visitors and family who have ever visited their loved ones. May these places continue to be better and may we help each other to be free from torment.”

Rundvall warns that the song, which starts with the expected sleigh-bells and strings – but builds in intensity until it becomes “a cacophony of sound pleading to be released” – may be triggering for some.

“It may affect people in a deep way,” he said.

“It is part history lesson on some of the treatments that have been tried throughout the modern medical era.”

At the same time, he hopes it will connect with the community in a ‘transparent, hopeful way.’”

“The goal of the song is to get out and be liberated. Be brave and take a listen. Sing along to the anthem chorus that builds and builds toward the end, which is hopefully a new beginning.”

For more information on Rundvall’s books, courses and music, visit arlenrundvall.com


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