According to statistics compiled by the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults in the United States faces a mental health issue any given year. Most cases start developing in teenagers and young adults in their early twenties. That also happens to be a defining period in most dance careers. Unfortunately, there’s still extensive stigma surrounding the issue, and people remain significantly under-informed. The dance community is not different here, as I believe the subject of mental health is often ignored or minimized. Not addressing a persistent and inevitable issue has not been effective in the past, and I believe the time has come for a meaningful shift in our community’s perspective.
I am a dancer, as well as a survivor and endurer of mental illness, and I wish to amplify the conversation on the subject. With the support of Gibney, through their expertise and vast experience in Community Action, this project has potential to have a great impact. I believe real stories carry the most power. An academic article published online through Psychiatric Services in 2012, took as a subject assessing studies focusing on ways to destigmatize mental illness. It proved that breaking untrue stereotypes through contact with and exposure to mentally ill had a hugely successful impact in the work. This strengthens my belief that sharing personal accounts will be an incredibly vital tool as we collectively take action to destigmatize mental illness; bridge the gap between dancers and helpful resources; and educate our communities on early warning signs, as an important preventative measure for the future.
Through creating an online platform for dancers to share their experiences, as well as to learn from, relate to and start conversations within their own communities based on what they’ve discovered, we can achieve milestones in this increasingly crucial work. The website will launch during the national Mental Health Month in May 2019, and feature dance artists discussing their mental health experiences. This will take form in a weekly interview and free write, sharing their story with a broad online audience.
In addition, I have compiled a comprehensive resource list, under the mentorship of Beth Silverman-Yam, DSW, LCWS, which includes local and nationwide organizations specializing in research and recovery from mental illness, as well as patient referral services. These will accompany the featured stories.
I have included information about Mental Health First Aid trainings as well, and organized a staff training at Gibney in February 2019. I believe in leading this shift by example.