Storytelling school

Nonprofit uses storytelling to end mental health stigma

In a Culver City home, a rehearsal takes place that puts mental health first.

“You are uncomfortable and you cannot leave because everyone is watching you,” said Reba Buhr, performing a monologue.

What do you want to know

  • “This Is My Brave” debuted in 2014 and has produced over 80 shows in the United States and Australia, featuring over 1,000 artists.
  • They all share their own stories of struggling with mental health issues
  • The local show will take place on September 25 at 2 p.m. on the Broad Stage in Santa Monica
  • Tickets are $15-$20

She started having panic attacks in college and used her local acting skills to share her story about an episode she once had while working a marathon at Disneyland.

“I know now that I’ve always struggled with anxiety, but I didn’t realize that was what I was dealing with. I thought it was just a normal life until I was finally diagnosed,” Buhr said.

She is one of 10 performers who will perform on “This Is My Brave,” a show at Santa Monica’s Broad Stage that seeks to help erase the stigma surrounding mental health.

“If you tell someone you have diabetes or asthma, it draws sympathy. If you tell someone you have a mental health issue, such as being sad, depressed or anxious , you become skeptical,” said John Tsilimparis, a local psychotherapist and one of the show’s producers.

According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness.

“Everyone is fighting a battle that you don’t see. You can’t assume you know what a person has been through just by looking at them,” Buhr said.

She knows that many people are uncomfortable discussing their personal struggles openly, which is why she believes those who don’t care, like her, have an important role to play.

“If you relate to this, it may give you the impression that I thought I was the only one dealing with this and that this is one of the most important drugs for mental health,” said Buhr said.

As a licensed clinical social worker, Amanda Eldabh isn’t as comfortable in the spotlight, but through her performance poetry she warns of the dangers of labeling people.

“This particular piece would come to me in my dreams and I would have to wake up in the middle of the night and write it down,” she said. “Regardless of what [people] I mean, if you are performing well/low, it doesn’t take away from your own experiences.

One message the producers hope to convey is that it’s okay to not be well, and that storytelling can be a powerful tool for raising awareness.

“It’s much easier to prevent a mental health crisis than to fix one and that kind of preemptive strike, that kind of preemptive awareness saves lives,” Tsilimparis said.

As for Buhr, she still has panic attacks, but she has learned to manage them.

“They’re still uncomfortable and they’re still embarrassing, but they don’t rule my life anymore,” she said.

And whatever the medium, these artists hope to inspire viewers to courageously tell their own stories.

Share your thoughts at Inside the Issues and watch Monday through Friday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Spectrum News 1.