An evening at Keep Talking, End the Stigma
Exploring the healing power of narrative
On April 18, the Tivoli Turnhalle hosted a new mental health awareness event. Keep Talking, End the Stigma was a collaborative event headed by the Office of Case Management and co-sponsored by the Counseling Center, the Phoenix Center, Student Government Association, Dean of Student’s Office, Center for Identity and Inclusion, and the Writing Center.
The goal of Keep Talking is to create a space to openly discuss mental health and illness, thereby reducing the societal stigma around this topic and encourage people to seek help when they need it.
Noreen Khan, a graduate assistant in the Office of Case Management, came up with the idea. “I began to think about different types of programming that could help to reduce mental health stigma on our campus and increase help-seeking behaviors,” Khan explained. “I had attended That’s What She Said, hosted by the CU Denver Women and Gender Center, and thought that the event was an amazing way to bring forth awareness. I also thought about how storytelling could be used as a method of healing. The two concepts formed Keep Talking, End the Stigma.”
The free event began with an hour of socializing and providing all attendees with free food, T-shirts, and anti-stress putty, as well as the chance to visit booths for mental health resources. In addition to the sponsor booths, many Denver organizations and University groups were represented, including Blue Bench, Young Invincibles, the Eating Disorder Foundation, Mental Health Center of Denver, and the LGBTQ+ Resource Center.
Following this opportunity to mingle, the audience gathered at the stage to listen as people presented stories about individual mental health journeys. The first speaker, Dr. Travis Heath, is an associate professor of psychology at Metro State and a Co-Founder of Rocky Mountain Narrative Therapy Center.
The concept of narrative therapy is that storytelling and cultural expression can be mechanisms for examining and addressing the way we conceptualize ourselves within our own “story” of life. Heath read a story about meeting a patient who preferred to express his thoughts and feelings through rap, composing raps during their sessions.
Other individuals presented their experiences with mental illness, addressing topics such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, substance abuse disorder, eating disorders, rape, grief, and suicide. Some people read their own stories, while others read on behalf of anonymous online submissions. In addition to written stories, the storytelling mediums included video and slam poetry. The reading was emotional for many, and professionals were available for any readers or audience members who needed them.
“Our need as humans to just share our stories is often undervalued,” attendee Josie Woods, a junior business finance major, said. “Even being in the audience, hearing a story that you can relate to is a reassurance that you’re not alone in the seemingly endless struggle of mental health. Overall, I think this event is just the sort of thing that helps end stigma—it puts faces to stories in such emotionally raw displays that you can’t ignore their experiences.”
Keep Talking was the first of its kind but not the last. With over a hundred attendees, Khan asserts, “We think we were successful in drawing people into this event and have also learned how to improve for further success in the future.”