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Oklahomans tell personal stories of mental health in state's first This Is My Brave event

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Some people who struggle with mental health might not be comfortable talking about it to a trusted friend, let alone an audience. Fifteen people from all over Oklahoma will break this taboo on Oct. 6 as part of the national This Is My Brave (TIMB) program.

Last May, Stephanie Bond attended the Children’s Behavioral Health Conference in Norman, where she heard Jennifer Marshall deliver a presentation. Marshall is the co-founder and executive director of This Is My Brave, Inc., a nonprofit organization devoted to reducing the stigmas surrounding those who struggle with mental health through the power of storytelling. Bond, who also has a background in journalism and public relations, decided to put on a TIMB event in Oklahoma.

“I applied and talked to Jennifer, and with my background, she thought it would be a good mix,” Bond said.

TIMB performances are 7 p.m. Oct. 6 at The Sooner Theatre, 101 E. Main St., in Norman. Tickets are $20 and are available at the door or online. Sales benefit TIMB, Inc.

Bond said National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Oklahoma and Bethesda, Inc., representatives will also be at the event for educational purposes.

“With mental illness, especially here in Oklahoma… there’s a lot of shame, there’s a lot of embarrassment,” Bond said. “It’s one of those topics we still just don’t talk about in public.”

Bond described mental health attention in Oklahoma as dismal, and he said the state ranks highest in many statistics regarding mental illness and ranks lowest in funding and services. By breaking the silence, TIMB storytellers create empathy and awareness.

“Storytelling puts a face on particular issues that have in the past been … stigmatized, judged,” Bond said. “We automatically put certain judgments, connotations, meanings to that.”

TIMB cast members will share stories via essay, narrative, poetry and music.

“My biggest joy so far has been just meeting the people who have been so brave … to come out and audition,” Bond said. “These are people, for the most part, who have never told their story to anybody.”

While TIMB demonstrates the strength required of those struggle with mental health, the event also includes their support networks of friends and families.

“It takes a lot of resources — mentally, physical, financially — to cope with, to care for people living with mental illness,” Bond said. “Services are so limited here in Oklahoma, in so many ways, that the ones who are living with mental illness have to rely on family members.”

TIMB takes place during Mental Illness Awareness Week (Sunday through Oct. 8).

“I always encourage people to learn as much as they can about mental illness, talk to their legislators as much as they can,” Bond said.

“Mental illness affects us all. We’ve all had issues with depression or anxiety; you don’t get to be an adult without it.”

Visit thisismybrave.org.

Print headline: Courageous tales, Oklahomans share their stories to combat the stigma surrounding mental health.

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