Local community invited to an evening of storytelling to support mental health awareness

A group photo of the 10-person cast of USF

By Torie Doll, University communication and marketing

From essay to dance, 10 USF students living with mental illness will share their stories in front of a live audience to break the stigma around mental health. This Is My Brave: College Edition hits the stage April 21 on the USF Tampa campus.

The show is unlike any other production held on a performing arts stage as the cast is not comprised of actors. They are empowered students to share their personal stories of struggle. Cast members say they’ve come a long way since auditioning for the show. Most have little or no stage experience, so rehearsals played a big part in building confidence and adjusting performances for an audience. For some, they are also working on memories of their past as this is the first time they have shared their stories publicly.

“The therapy has helped me feel more comfortable talking about what I’ve been through, but I think This Is My Brave could be, I don’t mean the last step, but an extra step to accomplishment,” said Emma Sadler. , a junior studying psychology and forensic behavioral health.

Sadler shares her journey with mental health through a creative short story.

“I use this comparison of a porcelain doll with myself: a personification of this fragility that marked my whole childhood,” Sadler said. “Growing up in a toxic home, and just wanting to hide from it, caused anxiety and depression and left me with negative self-talk and self-image. I want to stop feeling that my scars make me ugly because they don’t, they tell my story.

Several mental health professionals will be in the audience, wearing special scarves that make them easily identifiable, to offer support to anyone feeling impacted at any time during the performance.

This Is My Brave is a non-profit organization whose goal is to save lives through storytelling. Kristin Kosyluk, assistant professor in the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy and director of the USF Stigma Action Research (STAR) Lab, has worked with the organization since 2016 to evaluate the effectiveness of its stigma reduction programs. The ongoing evaluation involves multiple research studies to understand the impact on audience members as well as the storytellers themselves. “Research has shown that when it comes to addressing stigma, especially stigma surrounding behavioral health issues, storytelling is the most effective tool for this,” Kosyluk said.

Judy Genshaft College Honors Freshman Karla Evangelista De La Rosa studies Cellular and Molecular Biology and Public Health and shares her journey with anxiety and depression through an essay. “I’m someone who has a hard time expressing my emotions to people, so I hope acting will comfort me to be able to tell others how I feel,” said Evangelista De La Rosa. “I also hope that people in the audience will better understand what it’s like to live with mental illness.

This is the second annual production of This Is My Brave at USF. New this year is the integration of the Photovoice exhibition. While the stage show is limited to student performers, the Photovoice exhibit features the experiences of USF staff and faculty presented in the form of photographs and captions transcribed from group discussions. Click here to learn more about the show and STAR Lab research.

This Is My Brave: College Edition will be held April 21 at 7 p.m. in the USF Tampa Campus Concert Hall. Click here to book your free tickets.

(Photos and graphics courtesy of the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences.)

This Is My Brave: College Edition at USF is generously supported by USF’s Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute.

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