Live storytelling is an emotionally powerful medium, and an organization in Chicago is using it to get more people talking about mental health.
Heather Bodie is the Executive Artistic Director of Erase Distance, a nonprofit arts organization established in 2005 that uses live storytelling to foster community discussions on topics such as alcoholism, depression, anxiety and PTSD.
“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? But if you’ve never placed language on who it is what you live 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?” Bodie said. “The stories are performed by professional actors. But the way it works is that people sit down with us and share their own experiences in a one-to-one interview for an hour and a half to two hours, we transcribe those interviews, then shape them verbatim into two-page scripts that we hand out to those actors.”
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The performances are followed by moderated discussions where the audience can talk about their own experiences and how they relate to the stories they just heard.
It’s not therapy, although Bodie says it may seem therapeutic. Most 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 tap into the resources that can lead to potential healing. So storytelling helps people understand how to put words to what they live with,” she said. declared.
Beyond their live and virtual storytelling events, Erase 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. A lot of times in our public performances, people who join the room are there for that, right? And I honestly wish more people who were new to the experience of discussing their mental health has come forward to this stuff,” Bodie said.
Newsy’s mental health initiative “America’s Breakdown: Confronting Our Mental Health Crisis” brings you deeply personal and thoughtful stories about the state of mental health care in the United States Click here to learn more.