No matter how advanced medical science is, people suffering from mental illnesses carry that tag with them in their whole lives. The World Health Organisation observes October 10 as Mental Health Awareness Day for mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. There is no doubt that it is the need of the hour. A project has been initiated in Kerala aiming to spread public awareness on mental health literacy, with the help of theatre. Project MeHeLP INDIA will explore stories of the people accessing mental health support and their families to make the public understand what living with mental illness is.
Lokadharmi Theatre, Kochi, is going to use participatory theatre storytelling practices for the purpose, according to its artistic director Chandradasan. “Theatre is widely used as a therapy. We will use a flexible kind of approach to find the dialogues and will try to locate the stories from the rural frame first. We want to bring people to the comfort of their sharing stories, instead of forcing them,” Chandradasan says.
“Mental health literacy has arisen from the concept of health literacy. When it’s about mental health, the ignorance is quite common, which is what we need to work on,” says Professor Brown, who will examine the applicability and promotion of mental health literacy in urban and rural communities. As he puts it, no one would ever say that someone with a broken arm or a broken leg is less than a whole person, but people say that or imply that all the time about people with mental illness.
“We haven’t really heard stories of the people who have been through those conditions because of the stigma attached to it. We always get to know about what psychologists say about it. But every individual is different and they have different approaches towards a single action or reaction,” adds Professor Raghavan, who is leading this collaborative international cross-disciplinary partnership between India and UK-based scholars and theatre personalities. “It’s important to recognise the symptoms so that these conditions can be treated,” he adds. The project proposes use of a novel theatrical methadology, drawing upon various applied theatre and storytelling approaches. They will work alongside local people and engage them as co-creators by inviting them to tell and re-imagine their own stories in a range of folk theatre and street play settings. The project will culminate in an interactive drama production which will be filmed by renowned film director Priyanandanan.