Active Minds at Winona State University recently won Active Minds’ Programming Innovation Award for their mental health story-sharing program, the Mental Health Monologues (check out their videos)! Based on the highly popular Vagina Monologues, students, faculty, and staff (some as actors and others as authors of the stories) brought mental health struggles to life by reading personal experiences with mental illness in a theatrical setting.
The overall goal of this program was to “erase the stigma surrounding mental health and show that there is hope of treatment and recovery for mental illness.” They hoped that this emotionally-charged public presentation of personal stories would reveal the ways in which mental illness affects different people, whether they are personally struggling or supporting a loved one.
The chapter began planning seven months in advance and started by putting out a call for stories from students, staff, and faculty through their Facebook page, flyers around campus, and a campus-wide email. They set up an email account specifically for the purpose of soliciting stories which only two chapter members had access to in order to insure anonymity. As they compiled the stories, they also began pursuing directors and actors.
As theater rehearsals commenced, the organizing continued. The chapter booked a space, ordered T-shirts, designed the program, and planned concessions, They also started advertising the event by hanging creative posters around campus, connecting with campus news outlets, sending emails, and posting on Facebook.
To put on such a large-scale event, they also needed to secure funding. They decided to request funding from the Student Senate and Counseling Services rather than charging an admission fee.. They accepted donations at the door and at an Active Minds table to benefit the Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center.
The event was highly successful. With three shows in April 2015, the Mental Health Monologues attracted over 200 people from campus and beyond. Feedback from the campus community was overwhelmingly great; students connected to the stories and were inspired to tell their own stories. They group was even asked to perform the monologues again at Hiawatha Valley Mental Health events.
The chapter was very conscious of the sensitive nature of some of the stories presented and took steps to insure that audience members were not triggered by attending the event. In the story selection process they worked with the authors to edit sections that could have been triggering and had information for the counseling center listed on the programs at the event, announced before and after the event, and at their table outside in the reception area. They also announced in the beginning and throughout the event that people were encouraged to leave the room if they needed.
Overall, this performance gave the chapter at Winona State University the opportunity to make new connections with on- and off-campus groups, spread the power of stories, and inspired others to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. This is a great program to bring to any campus to creatively share stories around mental health while building relationships across campus and potentially raising money for a great cause!
For more information about this program, check it out here!