Mental health stigma addressed by students
The experiences of students coping with various mental illnesses were brought to life as anonymously submitted manuscripts were performed by student actors in the fourth annual “Mental Health Monologues” on Tuesday.
Sponsored by the Counseling Center and the UA chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, these student actors attempted to erase the stigma around the topic of mental illness by sharing 11 monologues written by UA students struggling with mental health issues from depression and bipolar disorder to generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It was refreshing to finally hear their side of the story,” Jenia Turpin, a sophomore majoring in communication, said. “You rarely hear what people with mental illnesses have to say about them because of the stigma or fear of not being accepted.”
Students packed the Ferguson Theater to hear the stories of their fellow classmates, performed in five- to 10-minute monologues by students wearing green, the awareness color of mental health illnesses.
In a twist on previous performances and the rest of the show, the final monologue was presented by the writer, who chose to break anonymity. Elise Goubet described her struggles with a variety of mental illnesses in a piece titled “Manifesto.”
(See also "Students combat mental health stigma")
Goubet said before her performance that she offered it in memory of a boy from her high school who committed suicide a couple months ago, as well as to give hope to those who were going through the same thing.
“I’ve never seen someone perform their own monologue, so I thought that was really, really moving,” Hannah Brewer, a senior majoring in psychology, said. “You could tell that she believed it and that it was her own story. She was so strong for sharing it in front of so many people, standing up and admitting that was her.”
When opening the show, Goubet said she hoped the audience would gain awareness that people all around them suffer from mental illness and understand how they and their loved ones are affected by their illnesses.
“These people are not their diseases, so we should not define them that way,” Goubet said.
The theme of this year’s show was “Erasing the Stigma.” Many of the manuscripts mentioned the desire to feel “normal” or to “fit in” despite their challenges.
“It’s really interesting because these are written by actual students, so it could be someone who sits next to you in class or lives down the hall from you or sits at your table at the dining hall, so it’s something that should hit close to home for people,” artistic director Brian Ernsberger said.
He said the goal of the event is to foster understanding on the topic of mental health by talking openly about the issues and getting people to recognize the prevalence of mental illness in society today.
(See also "Mental health just as important as physical health")
“Some people just automatically have a negative connotation toward mental health issues, but a lot of people go through them, sometimes at different points in their lives,” Ernsberger said. “We just want people to be able to empathize and understand.”
Becca Kastner, founder of the program at The University of Alabama and current graduate liaison, said she hoped to create a dialogue about mental health through the event.
“We want people to talk about these issues,” Kastner said. “Getting help for mental issues is just as important as getting help for physical issues.”
Kastner said an important part of creating a dialogue is not only raising awareness about the issues themselves but also making help available. NAMI staffed informational tables before and after the event as well as a question-and-answer session at the end with NAMI members and those who work at the Counseling Center.
Ernsberger said the most challenging part of producing the monologues and the key thing they focus on is portraying the stories accurately.
“We feel a real responsibility to the people who wrote these to tell their story authentically,” he said. “We’re not trying to dramatize them or make them melodramatic. We really need to honor the people and the truth-telling they’re giving us.”
(See also "Mental Health Monologues aim to bust stigmas")