UI psychiatry producing upcoming Englert event to reduce stigma of mental illness

Pictured Above: Iowa City producers Sadie Elbert, Amanda Heeren, and Aleksandra Vujicic

A group of Iowa City locals will share powerful monologues, original poetry, and music based on the real struggles and triumphs of living with a mental illness in the community’s rendition of This is My Brave. The one-time performance is dedicated to honest storytelling and ending the stigma surrounding mental illness.  

This is My Brave is a national non-profit group started by Jennifer Marshall, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and found that sharing her experience helped her heal. The show is now featured in cities across the country, starring community members who share their own experiences with mental illness.

The Iowa City show will feature locals who will reflect on what it’s like to live with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other forms of mental illness.  

The performance will be held at the Englert Theatre on Sept. 16.

“What we want to do with this show is provide a platform for people to be very honest and very open about what their experience has been so that others can connect to that, and ultimately to reduce the stigma around mental illness,” says Amanda Heeren, co-producer of the show and program director of the University of Iowa Mood Disorders Center.

Heeren first attended a 2016 This is my Brave show in Des Moines and later hosted the Cedar Rapids performance. She is joined by co-producers Sadie Elbert, a recent UI graduate and social worker, and Aleksandra Vujicic, communications coordinator for the UI Department of Psychiatry.  

Elbert says she has encountered many people in her field of work who are reluctant to seek help for their mental illness because of the stigma they encounter from their family, community, or in their workplace. As a result, that stigma creates barriers that affect people’s quality of life and self-perception, she says.

One in five American adults face mental health issues and suicide is among the leading causes of death in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

“Shame is kind of like bacteria or a mold, it festers in dark places,” Elbert says. “When we hide away what it is that we feel shameful about, the shame just grows. I think vulnerability and an accepting community is the light that mitigates that shame.”

She says the show’s goal is to provide a platform that invites people to talk about their experience with mental health in a way that’s not shameful or hidden, but real and raw.  

Iowa City performers include Fatima Tall, a UI student sharing her piece “Tous les Jours” about her experience with the onset of depression in college; Hayley Lynch, a local mental health advocate sharing her story about losing her significant other to suicide; Eddie Raines, a local saxophonist performing “Going Up Swinging” where he discusses his depression, substance use, and rebuilding his life.  

The show may be especially moving for providers who work in the mental health field or see patients that share similar struggles. Since the stories are presented creatively, it removes the pressure of having to respond as an audience member.  

“I just get to learn and not have to try to create immediate solutions for that person,” Heeren says. “So as a professional it’s a really healthy way to be exposed to people’s stories.”

The Details

What: This Is My Brave

Where: The Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City

When: Sunday, Sept. 16, 2 to 4pm

Cost: $17 for students, $22 for the public


Thursday, September 6, 2018