River Deep, Mountain High: A Psychiatrist Eulogy for Tina Turner


Saying goodbye to Tina Turner…




On occasion, we have made an exception to our eulogies being solely on psychiatrists. In the entertainment world, we made one for Robin Williams years back. It is time for another, one who exemplified so much of what is important for mental health, that being the legendary singer and entertainer, Tina Turner.

Her death at the age of 83 occurred about a week before our upcoming Memorial Day. For veterans like me, Memorial Day is the saddest day of the year, remembering those who died in service fighting for our country. Tina survived her own battles with brutality, escaping to become a force for freedom of the mind.

She encountered misogyny and domestic violence from her spouse and bandleader, Ike Turner. Perhaps the Ike and Tina Revue hit song “A Fool in Love” reflected what was happening behind the musical scene. After many years together in the late 1950s and 60s, she secretly escaped with virtually nothing, but rose to the heights of pop music stardom. If sound can be characterized, hers was one of overcoming emotional pain. Her singing of John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary” could easily have been called Proud Tina.

She also seemed to have some success in overcoming another of the social psychopathologies in the United States: racism. After being on the Ed Sullivan show in 1970, she become popular with both Black and white audiences. She later married her manager, became a Swiss citizen, and died near Zurich.

Overcoming poverty actually came first. She was born Anna Mae Bullock in a segregated hospital in rural Tennessee. Ike Turner named and trademarked her Tina Turner, after the fictitious Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

Appropriately, she become known as a model of resilience, the coping strategy that I highlighted on my recent interfaith presentation on the Jewish way to resilience at the 2023 APA Annual

Meeting. Certainly, her natural singing and dancing talent helped.

However, achieving more resilience and posttraumatic growth requires more.

-It requires a revised vision, and hers, like the title of her hit song “River Deep - Mountain High,” was to emerge from the deep of her muddy personal river and set out to solo climb the mountain high.

-It requires community support, and she received that from her fans and friends.

-And, often it requires therapeutic and spiritual help. For Tina, it was the Buddhist faith, which enhanced her self-worth and one of the reasons why my colleagues and I are working on a book on the Eastern Religions, Spirituality, and Psychiatry.

Angela Bassett, who played Tina in the 1993 film “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” paid tribute with this question:

“How do we say farewell to a woman who owned her pain and trauma and used it as a means to help change the world?”

Our profession’s answer must be found deep in the raging rivers of our patients and our society to learn how to climb and conquer the mountains of personal and social psychopathologies, like Tina Turner did in her lifetime. If you need any more inspiration to do so, just watch the YouTube video of her spontaneously singing “River Deep - Mountain High,” which closed the 1989 Rock ’N Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. As the song lyrics say: “My oh my.”

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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