Breaking Stigmas Through Storytelling from The Stage with This Is My Brave

Through performing arts, This is My Brave is breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse. Hosting performances across the country, the nonprofit equips ordinary people to join their cast, tell their stories, and feel empowered in their hardships. Their research has shown the direct impact of their work- a reduction of self-stigma and an increase in confidence and sense of belonging. Simply put, their storytelling platform saves lives. This week Lift U Up: Inspiring Health Stories is joined by Erin Gallagher, This is My Brave’s Interim Executive Director. She shares what drew her to This is My Brave and why a devastating family loss led her to becoming a mental health advocate. 

The First Show

In 2014, This is My Brave founders Jennifer Marshall and Anne Marie Ames launched a theater show with a mission to tell stories of mental health challenges and break down the stigma. What was just one show in Arlington, Virginia grew into many. The community in Arlington saw the impact and were excited, which encouraged This is My Brave to keep going. Their model is simple – they invite ordinary people to share their stories through live theater productions. The stories are centered around mental health conditions, experience of substance abuse, shame, stigma, and the confidence to move forward. Since 2014, This is My Brave has had over 80 unique casts perform in over 80 shows around the country, taking their impact nationwide.

Advocating for Change

Erin Gallagher’s introduction to This is My Brave was an accident, but came at the right time. In 2016, the unthinkable happened and Erin lost her son to suicide. She saw first hand how the shame of asking for help affected her son and her family, and she did not want to let the shame win. She decided to be open with her community about what happened and turn her grief into good, becoming a mental health advocate and teaching the people around her how to look for warning signs and ask for help when needed. After connecting with the founder of This is My Brave, Erin was introduced to a mission she found herself incredibly passionate about. As their relationship grew, Erin was eventually invited to join their team- to which she enthusiastically accepted.

Storytelling Continues

With Erin on board, This is My Brave went on to continue to put mental health at the forefront of communities across the country. By using performance art, the performers take the complexity of an experience like mental illness and share emotions through their work, that couldn’t be expressed by words alone. They allow their casts to turn their pain into a thing of beauty. 

In 2020, when the pandemic slowed their in-person shows, This is My Brave didn’t let it stop their impact. They pivoted to virtual shows, reaching an even wider audience than before. They also launched a research initiative, taking the time to directly measure the impact they’ve made. Through their research, they determined that they saw 5 consistent outcomes from their performers:

  • Reduction in self-stigma and shame
  • Increase in a sense of purpose
  • Increase in a sense of feeling value
  • Increase in confidence
  • Increase in community and support

Next for Erin and This is My Brave is to continue their efforts to see these outcomes expand to more communities. They’ve launched a podcast series called Our Turn to Talk, have a documentary out with and continue to make change through storytelling. 

What else can you expect in this episode?

  • Why stigma is a barrier to help-seeking behavior. 
  • The touching story of how Erin got introduced to the This is My Brave founder.
  • How the pandemic fueled conversations about mental health. 
  • How This is My Brave helps Erin shift her perspective and gives her a sense of purpose. 
  • Erin’s wellness tip and thoughts on therapy. 

Where to find This is My Brave: