By Melissa Ford
Last Friday, Erasing the Distance, the kick-off event for SHOUT IT OUT LOUD, the anti-stigma campaign encouraging community discussion about mental health, was presented at The Arts Center of Oak Park. I attended, along with Evan O’Brien, Videographer and Content Manager of OakPark, and together we watched an arts performance troupe portray true stories of people living with mental illnesses such as OCD, depression, anxiety, and more.
An audience discussion followed with participants pondering the question, “What will your take-away be from this evening’s performance?”
Mental illness has not touched my family nor my immediate circle of friends, however, after witnessing these true stories, my take-away was compassion. . .
Compassion for people living with a mental illness, compassion for family members attempting to help loved ones who struggle, and even compassion for community members (such as myself) who have little knowledge or understanding about the interior challenges of others who live in our town.
Below please find other community member’s take-aways, and whether or not you attended Erasing the Distance, consider this question posed by Nancy Little, Director of Training for Thresholds Dartmouth Research Center, "What shall we do to erase the distance outside of the theater?"
Nina Allen, LCSW
Thrive Counseling Center
President & CEO
I thought Erasing the Distance did a great job representing stories told in countless therapist offices. The beauty of their performance was in sharing what we see and hear with the entire community. My only concern is we tend to preach to the choir. How can we get the message across to more people, especially people who hold misperceptions about mental illness? I also feel strongly that their message should include the difficulty people have accessing and funding mental health services. We are often faced with very difficult crisis situations before people can actually get the help they need.
Nancy Fidler, LCPC
Thrive Counseling Center
Coordinator of the Transitional Learning Center
I loved the format of using different true stories to educate about mental illness. It kept people’s attention and was not too long. That way, people could absorb the information then discuss it with the rest of the community. I wish there would have been a story about Schizophrenia. It is a very misunderstood mental illness and we could use more public education about the topic.
NAMI Metro Suburban
I would like to see this performance done at the local high schools. The young student who stood up in the audience at the end of the evening, relating that he recognized the issues portrayed by the actors in some of his friends, but due to (what sounded like limited resources and access) were turning instead to drugs, spoke volumes about the need to reach young people directly.
Thresholds Dartmouth Research Center
Director of Training
Brighid O’Shaughnessy does this country a great service through her not for profit group Erasing the Distance. The real life stories of suffering with and triumphing over symptoms of mental illness were heartfelt and well dramatized. It was quite enlightening at the end when three of the five performers told stories of their own personal anxiety, depression, and past traumatic events. Symptoms are truly a matter of degree with all humans, and for awhile the distance was truly erased. The question remains: what shall we do to erase the distance outside of the theater?
SAY IT OUT LOUD is an ongoing educational initiative sponsored by the Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township in partnership with NAMI Metro-Suburban, Thrive Counseling Center and Thresholds.