Health & Fitness

Sacramento storytelling event brings hope, awareness to mental illness

Sacramento drivers may have noticed the county-sponsored billboards portraying people with post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses posted throughout the county earlier this year. Some of those familiar faces will appear live Saturday on the Guild Theater stage to share testimony of their struggle with mental illness as it relates to their cultural backgrounds.

The one-time performance of “Telling Our Story To End the Stigma of Mental Illness” is an initiative of the Mental Illness: It’s Not Always What You Think campaign, sponsored by the Sacramento County Division of Behavioral Health Services. The campaign, now in its third year, aims to change negative perceptions of mental illness by showing its effect on everyday people and point those suffering from mental illness toward services and support.

Saturday’s event, which will be a blend of storytelling, poetry and ritual, will celebrate those on the path of recovery in order to inspire others to seek help, said Mary Nakamura, human services program planner with the division of behavioral health services.

Mental illness affects roughly one in four adults; in Sacramento County, that’s an estimated 355,000 people. Yet the issue often is swept under the rug – especially in certain cultural communities, Nakamura said.

“We have a very diverse county, and we’ve heard over the years how pervasive stigma is across the community,” she said. “Shame and stigma prevent people from seeking help, or even knowing recovery is possible.”

Albert G. Titman Sr. experienced the stigma firsthand growing up in the local American Indian community, where mental health issues were – and in many ways still are – seen as shameful or wrong, he said.

The community leader, now a counselor at the Sacramento Native American Health Center in midtown, experienced depression and addiction while trying to cope with domestic issues that he traces back to the acts of violence committed against his ancestors during colonization.

Transmitted inter-generational trauma, as Titman calls the sense of shame and victimization prevalent in his culture, is a major source of depression and anxiety for American Indians, who commit suicide at a rate eight times higher than the national average, he said.

“These things are directly tied to the history of what happened to our people,” Titman said. “My trauma is linked to my dad’s trauma. Those things are handed down emotionally, psychologically and in some cases physically.”

Titman was able to get well through a combination of counseling and a return to his culture’s natural ways, he said. On Saturday, he will perform an opening prayer in English and Miwuk, his tribe’s language.

After that, participants from a range of backgrounds will tap their struggles with stigma for nine performances.

Members of the Russian community will explain how mental illness carries a negative connotation from the Soviet Union, where psychiatric facilities were associated with punishment.

Hmong participants will share a story cloth – an embroidered panel – and discuss their experiences with stigma.

Students from Arthur A. Benjamin Health Professions High School will share poetry.

The idea for the event grew from the Stop Stigma Sacramento Speakers Bureau, launched in 2013. The bureau gathers and trains dozens of speakers engaged in the battle against mental illness to speak at schools and rotary clubs throughout the county.

“We’re just so excited about the community wanting to be part of this – to not only celebrate wellness and recovery and what that looks like in their community, but also to encourage their community members to support each other,” Nakamura said.

For some victims of mental illness, seeing someone in recovery is all it takes to make a change, said Titman.

“Someone may be in the crowd feeling very hopeless and negative, and when they hear someone share their story of survival, of well being, after maybe making a connection to their story, it can change their life,” he said. “It can spill this ray of hope so bright that it can be enough for that person to seek the help they need.”

Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.

Telling Our Story To End the Stigma of Mental Illness

What: A live storytelling event to help reduce stigma surrounding mental illness

When: 2-4 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Guild Theater, 2828 35th St., Sacramento

Cost: Free

Information: stopstigmasacramento.org or (916) 498-1000

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