More than one in four Manitobans had at least one mental illness diagnosis between 1997 and 2002. According to annual stats published by the Government of Manitoba for 2012-13, approximately 25 per cent of Manitobans, aged 10 and older, received medical care for mental illness.
All of this only reflects reported and diagnosed cases, so we can assume the actual rate is much higher.
Yet, mental illness, if you watch the news or television, is often depicted as a monster lurking, waiting to violently attack the innocent. If a quarter of our population is coping with mental illness, then clearly this stereotype is not accurate.
At the end of June, Sarasvàti Productions, a local theatre company, embarked on its latest community-based project, this time exploring the topic of mental health.
Theatre often provides a perfect opportunity to look inside of ourselves. It is certainly a good way to reach those with a mental illness, or struggling with mental wellness, as well as their families and caregivers.
This exciting new initiative will include workshops in the community, allowing for a wide range of people to participate and gain some theatrical skills. It will result in a public performance that aims to educate a broad audience about mental health.
Those living with mental illness are often marginalized. Many live in a lower socio-economic bracket and, without support, are more susceptible to further mental and physical health issues.
Telling their stories is crucial in giving voice to the experience, empowering individuals, and demystifying illnesses that are often feared and misunderstood.
Sarasvàti’s previous community-based projects have focused on criminalized women, youth in care, and food bank clients. Through these experiences, Artistic Director Hope McIntyre noted a crucial link with mental illness.
“Many of the incarcerated women we worked with were imprisoned because of a mental illness that had not been diagnosed or managed,” shared McIntyre. “Many youth in care were struggling with depression. When creating Empty with Winnipeg Harvest, it became clear that poverty unfortunately often accompanies mental illness.”
Sarasvàti Productions is dedicated to using art for social change, and working on this topic with partners and the community was a logical step.
In fact, the focus on mental health will run through much of Sarasvàti’s 2015/16 season, with its theme of Breaking Through.
As part of this year’s FemFest, Sarasvàti’s annual festival of women playwrights, a reading of Cairn Moore’s new play Stigma will present the story of a young woman dealing with the diagnosis of schizophrenia. Inspired by the horrific events on Greyhound Bus 1170 in 2008, this new play explores the assumptions and stereotypes associated with schizophrenia.
This will lead in to the community project, which will see Sarasvàti collaborate with Artists in Healthcare Manitoba and Red Threads Playback Theatre to create a play that will challenge the stigma of living with a mental illness.
Partnerships with Selkirk Mental Health Centre, Manitoba Schizophrenia Society and other community organizations, combined with stories from a large cross-section of people who have struggled with mental wellness, will inform the creative process.
The year-long mental health project will culminate in a Forum Theatre and Playback Theatre performance in which the audience will be allowed to participate in the drama created by the actors.
Forum Theatre, and other forms of participatory performance, are a vital way of creating dialogue about taboo issues, particularly with audiences who do not often see themselves represented on stage or in the media.
The staged reading of Cairn Moore’s Stigma will take place on September 15. For information about this, and Sarasvàti’s mental health project, stay tuned to www.sarasvati.ca.