June 3, 2009

On Saturday April 26th, over thirty people gathered at a venue in Kings Cross to participate in a new theatre project designed to highlight, question and hopefully, challenge our approach to mental distress at an individual and societal level. The idea is that through an ensemble approach to writing, devising and performing a piece of drama, based on real life stories, will be presented to the public.

You might think that a meeting of so many people, largely unknown to each other, could be a recipe for chaos, but the opposite was the case. What occurred was an afternoon of story sharing, discussion and improvisatory exercises in an atmosphere of openness, careful listening and cohesion.

The discussion ranged over topics such as what do we mean by mental illness or mental health? Are these meaningless or helpful designations? Who do we tell? Is openness or discretion the best policy at times of distress? The role of humour and emotional education, and whether society is ready for a change in perception. To me the most important part of the discussion was about the causes of distress. What emerged from that was that a lack of empathy between people in general and how our culture of denial affects the way we process and recover from traumatic events.

When it came to sharing of personal stories the emphasis was on what happens when you involve public health services in your life at a time of crisis. Experiences ranged from the positive relief of diagnosis and treatment despite the sometimes difficult process of getting help to the nightmarish experience of presenting with trauma caused by objective events and being misdiagnosed because your narrative is not believed or you are unable to communicate it. People told of how enforced or unexplained treatment, misdiagnosis or the reliance on drugs instead of therapy will indefinitely compound and enlarge the original problem. Some had been perceived as a threat when it was in fact they who were vulnerable. Another pointed out how differently you will be treated in a private rather than public facility revealing the often arbitrary approaches to mental health.

The facilitators gave us exercises to develop group coordination and communication through physical action and tableaux.

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.