Storytelling school

Chicago organization uses live storytelling to discuss mental health

Live storytelling is an emotionally powerful medium, and an organization in Chicago is using it to get more people talking about mental health.

“You’ll notice, even in the last five years, billboards on the side of the freeway or signs on the side of the bus that say ‘Talk to someone,’ right?” Heather Bodie, executive art director at Erasing the Distance, said. “But if you’ve never placed the language on what you’re living with, what’s going on in your body, if you have a deep-seated stigma and shame around what it means to live with a mental health issue or going through a crisis, you’re going to sit down and talk to someone, but what are you going to say?

Erasing The Distance is a non-profit arts organization established in 2005 that uses live storytelling to foster community discussions on topics such as alcoholism, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

“The stories are performed by professional actors, but the way it works is for people to sit down with us and share their own experiences in a one-on-one interview-style setting for between an hour and a half and two hours,” Bodie said. declared. “We transcribe those interviews and then fashion them verbatim into two-page scripts that we hand out to those actors.”

The performances are followed by moderated discussions where the audience can talk about their own experiences and how they relate to the stories they have just heard.

It’s not therapy, although Bodie says it may seem therapeutic. More importantly, it gives the audience the opportunity to learn how to talk about mental health with others.

“If we can’t talk about it, we can’t take advantage of the resources that can lead to a potential cure,” Bodie said. “So storytelling helps people understand how to put into words what they live with.”

Beyond their live and virtual storytelling events, Erasing The Distance also works with schools, faith-based organizations and workplaces to reach different audiences — especially those new to mental health discussions.

“I think that’s our biggest challenge,” Bodie said. “A lot of times in our public performances, the people who join the room are there for that, right? I honestly wish that more people who were new to the experience of discussing their mental health present to this stuff.

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