By Wendy Sager Evanson
It was an extraordinary success. Nearly 100 people from Truth or Consequences and surrounding communities poured into the Lee Belle Johnson Recreation Center on Sunday afternoon, April 22, to hear five presenters offer their personal stories about the impact of mental illness in “Minds Interrupted: Stories of Lives Affected by Mental Illness.”
The program was presented through the Compassionate Touch Network, a Santa Fe-based tax-exempt organization that promotes community health through education, healing and the arts. Director Michele Herling has produced “Minds Interrupted” around the state for the past four years. The Truth or Consequences production was made possible through a grant from the New Mexico Arts Commission, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs and National Endowment for the Arts, and through local sponsorship of the Sierra Vista Counseling Center, Sierra County Arts Council Lodger’s Tax, and Sierra Health Council and the city. A local planning group worked for several months engaging health providers and interested community members.
Along with a resident from Truth or Consequences, past monologue participants from Española, Albuquerque and Los Alamos added their voices to this unique production – either as someone with an illness or a family member with a loved one. Presenters spoke poignantly about experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and also about the challenges of living with undiagnosed anxiety and personality disorders masked by substance and alcohol abuse. In every story, there was pain, anger, confusion, compassion, love and truth.
The audience response was deeply touching. Tears, laughter and deep listening filled the theater. Respect for the courage it takes to speak out and to persevere for healing these complex biochemical imbalances was evident in the faces of the audience and conversations following the program. One audience member commented, “My life has been affected deeply by mental illness, and to see and hear these experiences gave me a sense of not being alone. Thank you from my heart.”
It is a rare person who does not have some personal connection to mental illness. The formal statistic is that one in four families is affected by mental illness – many agree that it is probably a lot more common. When compared with all other diseases, mental illness ranks first in causing disability in the United States. Yet because of the stigma, people talk much less openly about mental illness than about other diseases, such as cancer or heart disease. Sharing stories helps reduce the stigma, shame, secrecy and silence, and is perhaps the greatest barrier to individuals and families getting help.
“Minds Interrupted” was an important step in diminishing the isolation and seeking greater support for community members of Sierra County who need mental health services.
A special note to my community: All presenters who came from other parts of New Mexico to share their stories fell in love with Truth or Consequences and plan to come back in the future. All but one had never been to Truth or Consequences before, and plan to come back with their loved ones. One presenter said, “This will be the perfect place for me to break away from the hectic pace of work life. This community is special, warm and inviting.”