This post is part three in a series by TeenScreen intern Anna Volpe, a rising junior at Connecticut College who will study mental illness in South Africa. Her research focuses on the role of mental illness in South Africa, the stigma it presents, and available treatment options. We are proud to share her article on this topic.
Early education is an important aspect to South Africa’s strategy to reducing stigma. The Cape Mental Health Society (CMHS) provides a Mental Health Awareness Schools’ Programme which is a preventative, educational, and interactive program that focuses on mental health, positive self-image, depression, life stress management, and substance abuse. Another organization, called the Central Gauteng Mental Health Society (CGMHS), has formed educational programs to reducing stigma in a more artistic way.
Two theatre productions have been created, entitled Madness Revealed: Chasun’s Story and Madness Revealed: Thandi’s Story. The former focuses on schizophrenia and is based on a true story of a woman’s battle and triumph over this disorder and the latter looks at bipolar disorder and incorporates the main character seeking help from a traditional healer.
Bringing awareness and promoting affirmative mental health through art-based activities can be successful and productive. Both of these productions have been presented in various communities and schools and have received high praise and positive feedback. The producers of these two shows are currently exploring possible sources of funding to present the plays across the country (Kakuma et al., 2010).
In the United States, there are also various organizations dedicated to helping reduce the stigma of mental illness. Erasing the Distance (ETD) is a non-profit arts organization that also uses the power of performance to disarm stigma, spark dialogue, educate, and promote healing, surrounding issues of mental health.
Like the Gauteng Mental Health Society’s productions, Erasing the Distance collects, records, and sculpts true stories from people impacted by mental health issues into theatrical pieces to present on stage. Furthermore, this organization leads outreach programs that provide youth with an opportunity to explore, learn, and perform their own mental health stories. Overall, the vision of Erasing the Distance is to be a creative leader in producing insight and consideration around the issues of mental health.
Early education and promoting awareness of mental health to the public is a huge aspect to the campaign of reducing this dominating stigma; however, I think that giving these educational, outreach programs an artistic and creative twist to them will further help this movement.
The arts, in general, has brought much joy and entertainment to all kinds of people throughout the years and I believe that using different mediums will effectively help and teach the public to comprehend the truths about mental illness, reduce the negative (and usually false) assumptions of these mental illnesses, and to spread and promote positive mental health for all.
1Structural stigma refers to the violation of human rights through loss of employment, housing, voting, jury duty, holding public office, marriage, and parenting.