New Partnership Increases Theatre Troupe's Reach

New Partnership Increases Theatre Troupe's Reach

On a chilly Monday morning in November, Desireé Trim joined her Corner Theatre Troupe cast members, Brianna Williams and Max Abuelsamid for a performance for high school students at the University of Michigan Depression Center. The performance, about teen mental health, was part of the kick-off conference for the Depression Center’s 2013-2014 Peer-to-Peer Depression Awareness program.

Mental illness is a growing public health issue that affects teens at high rates. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in four Michigan high school students reported symptoms of depression in 2011.  In that same year, 16% percent of high school students reported considering suicide and 8% reported attempting suicide.

The University of Michigan Depression Center is doing something to address this. To promote mental health awareness and reduce stigma among young people, the Depression Center trains and supports teams of high school students throughout Washtenaw County each year. In turn, these teams create school-wide campaigns to raise awareness about mental health and connect youth to resources for support.

Trish Meyer, Program Director for Outreach and Education at the Depression Center, feels that peer-to-peer education is key to making mental health stigma a thing of the past. “The peer educators are courageous and are very willing to talk about mental health. We want this generation to be able to talk about mental health just like physical health. We want them to view seeking help as a sign of strength and not weakness.”

On that chilly November morning, the high school student participants lined up to grab bagels and hot chocolate as Dez, Brianna and Max rehearsed their their lines in a nearby room. Before they knew it, it was show time.

Above: Max, Desireé and Brianna perform, This Is Real, a play about depression.

The ten minute Theatre Troupe play they performed explores the story of a young person who is dealing with symptoms of depression, her partner who wants to help but does not know how, and a peer who does not believe depression exists. The following excerpt captures the feelings of the main character as she struggles to understand her symptoms:

Mary: Why am I the only one who feels this bad?  I look around school and everyone else seems happy and normal.  What’s their secret?  Are they just better at hiding it?  Have you ever been in a situation where you knew you were going to fail?  Where the odds against you seemed insurmountable?  I feel like that all the time.

Following the performance, the actors remained in-character to answer questions from the audience. One student asked, “Mary, did you know you were experiencing depression while you were going through it?” The character Mary responded, “No, not really. I knew that I was sad and tired all the time, but I didn’t know what to do about it.” After more than a dozen in-character questions, the Theatre Troupe members came out-of-character and had an open conversation with audience members about depression symptoms and strategies to seek support.

The next day at a Theatre Troupe meeting, Brianna reflected on the importance of talking about mental health with her peers. “I feel like we’re at a critical point in our life where there is a lot of stuff going on. No matter who you are, you’ve experienced some sort of depression, sadness or loss.” Desireé echoed that sentiment. “I definitely think it’s important because a lot of us deal with it and a lot of us cover it up. We don’t speak up to get the proper help that we need.”

The partnership between the University of Michigan Depression Center and the Corner Theatre Troupe will continue throughout the school year, with plans already in the works to take the performance to Saline High School. Trish believes the Theatre Troupe skit is a great way to introduce the topic of mental health. “It creates a scenario where everyone has a common place from which to start. We can talk about the characters as a catalyst to begin the larger conversation about mental health.”

Want to begin a conversation about mental health in your home or community? Visit mentalhealth.gov for tips. Know a young person who may need support? The Corner offers therapy and psychiatric care to young people ages 12 – 21 regardless of ability to pay. Learn more here >>


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