The Chicago Group uses live storytelling to talk about mental health (VIDEO)

Chicago organization Erasing The Distance uses live performances to address issues such as alcoholism, depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Live storytelling is an emotionally powerful medium, and one Chicago organization is using it to get more people talking about mental health.

“You’re going to notice, even in the last five years, billboards on the side of the freeway or signs on the side of the bus that say ‘talk to someone,’ right?” Heather Bodie, executive artistic director at Erasing the Distance, said. “But if you’ve never related the language to what you live with, what’s going on in your body, if you have a deep-seated stigma and shame about what it means to live with one who is going through a mental health issue or crisis , sit down and talk to someone, but what are you going to say?

Erasing The Distance is a nonprofit arts organization founded in 2005 that uses live storytelling to encourage community discussion on issues such as alcoholism, depression, anxiety and PTSD.

“The stories are performed by professional actors, but the way it works is that people sit down with us and share their own experiences in a face-to-face interview style for about an hour and a half to two hours.” Bodie said: “We transcribe these interviews and then form them verbatim into two-page scripts that we give to the actors.”

The performances are followed by moderated discussions in which the audience can talk about their own experiences and the way they relate to the stories just heard.

It’s not therapy, although Bodie says it can feel therapeutic. Most importantly, it gives audiences an opportunity to learn how to talk to others about mental health.

“If we can’t talk about it, we can’t access the resources that can lead to a potential cure,” Bodie said. “So storytelling helps people understand how to put into words what they live with.”

In addition to their live and virtual storytelling events, Erasing The Distance also works with schools, faith organizations, and workplaces to reach diverse audiences — particularly those new to mental health discussions.

“I think that’s our biggest challenge,” Bodie said. “In our public performances, the people who enter the room are often there for that, right? Honestly, I wish more people who are new to the experience of talking about their mental health would confront things like this.”

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