Hey, Stigma Fighter, I see you. You do cool things on your campus to get people talking about mental health and your stigma fighting tool belt is pretty rad, full of buttons, information cards, pledge stickers, and resources. However, I have a recommendation for a new tool: the Active Minds storytelling course, “Our Stories, Our Strength.” I took it over the summer and came up three pretty solid reasons why you should take it this semester.
1. It’s a great way to meet new people passionate about mental health
Being a stigma fighter is great, but being a stigma fighter is also tough. Trying to change a culture is hard, especially when it seems like you’re trying to change it alone. One of the reasons conference is so great is because it brings a lot of stigma fighters from around the country together – and this is what happens in the “Our Stories, Our Strength” course! I’m from Pennsylvania, and I was the only person in the class from Pennsylvania. I wouldn’t have met any of the people I took the class with if I hadn’t taken it, because we were from different corners of the United States. It’s a great (and necessary) reminder that there are lots of us working to change the culture to make it more positive for mental health and, it’s also super great to talk about programming ideas and strategies with classmates and to support each other in our journeys.
2. People are transformed by stories
I don’t want to give away too much, because there will be discussion of storytelling in the class, but it isn’t really a secret that people are transformed by the power of a good story – book writing and publishing is still a pretty lucrative business, and that’s an industry that has been around for centuries! We all have favorite stories, and storybook characters – many of whom remind us of ourselves and may have even helped us get through a tough time we had. This is definitely a super power that every human, in some small or large way, possesses. Remember the Disney movie, Sky High, where the kids of superheroes went to a special high school to learn how to use the powers they inherited from their parents? If superheroes need to practice to utilize their powers, and storytelling is a super power we have as humans, then we also need to practice storytelling to cultivate it as a super power. This course will do exactly that – walk you through the process of cultivating your story. And more importantly, it will teach you how to do it safely, for both yourself and your audience, which is important when dealing with sensitive topics like mental health.
3. You get to celebrate yourself
Chances are, if you’re in a position where you’re considering sharing your mental health story, you’ve been through and overcome a lot. Whether it’s your own personal battle with a mental illness, or your journey supporting a friend or family member, in order to share it, you have to reflect upon it. And, as you reflect upon who you are and where you’ve been, you might be surprised to find out yourself what you’ve been through and overcome, because it’s hard to get a full picture of what is happening in your life as you’re experiencing it. I guarantee that when you step back and look at your journey with mental health, you’ll be proud of who you are, where you’ve been and what you’ve overcome. And when you share your story with the other people taking your class, they get to share in the joy of your victory with you. And if you choose to continue to share your story, in large venues or small ones, you’ll continue to find more and more people to share your joy with, and maybe even inspire someone to keep persevering in their journey (although this kind of ties in with reason #2). Yes, storytelling can be hard and emotionally draining as you think about some of the hardest times of your life, but it can also be fulfilling and rewarding when you compare who you were then to who you are now and see how far you’ve come.
So what are you waiting for? Registration for the class opens on January 16th and content is available on January 30th, with online meetings happening the entire month of February. It’s a great addition to your tool belt, Stigma Fighter, and it will help you reach more and more people and transform their lives with the power of who you are (which is a pretty awesome power, because you are pretty awesome), and continue to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health disorders.
Emily Ahlin is a chapter leader at the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the Active Minds Student Advisory Committee.