The Power of Sharing Your Story

This week’s blog post comes from  Char who is part of the Health Literacy team at the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre. The Centre is part of an integrated BC Mental Health and Addiction Services strategy to improve health literacy in mental health and addictions in British Columbia.

power of sharing your story_Speaker1 CROPI am a project manager with the BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services Health Literacy team. As part of my role, I was a speaker-trainer for our recent Balancing Our Minds 2015: Everyday Champions of Wellness event. This was a one-day youth summit for high-school-age youth in BC to learn about mental health through hearing personal stories from other youth, engage in fun activities, and participate in thoughtful dialogue. The goals of the event were:

  • To increase knowledge about mental health and substance use
  • To build awareness of available mental health tools, resources, and services
  • To decrease stigma and discrimination towards individuals experiencing mental health challenges
  • To generate ideas about how to promote mental wellness in schools and communities

Our youth summits are based on the TAMI (Talking About Mental Illness) model which states that that when young people hear other young people with lived experience share positive personal stories, it breaks down the stigma of mental health. There are often negative attitudes and thoughts about youth with mental health and substance use challenges and these youth are often devalued in our society.

power of sharing your story_Crowd CROPAs a speaker trainer, I went through the process of making sure our youth speakers were ready to speak in front of a large group. This was especially important for our youth summit because speakers were sharing very personal stories about their mental health journey to approximately 1500 youth. I met each speaker three to six times over a period of two months, assisted them with story development, and provided opportunities to practice and provide feedback. I tried to offer a safe space for speakers to debrief on feelings that came up from sharing their story. It was interesting that the individual stories were so different from each other, yet I noticed cohesiveness in the messages. Some of the key messages from our youth summit included:

  • Hope for everyone
  • People are not defined by a mental health challenge; they can and do have happy and successful lives
  • Everyone can take steps to be a champion of wellness and reduce the stigma of mental health

power of sharing your story_CoupleListening CROPThe speaker-training process really allowed the power of sharing a story to reveal itself because speakers were prepared, calm, and well-spoken. Throughout the process I was really surprised about what emotions came up for me. It was hard at times for me to dissociate; I found myself really drawn to the emotion of the story, and at times had to stop myself from crying. The space for practicing a presentation developed into a sacred place where vulnerability and trust were equally apparent. I was asking myself at times, could I share such personal facets of myself?  It left me in awe. I was so incredibly impressed with the courage of our youth speakers. Over time it was obvious to me that, beyond helping speakers develop their story, my role was to allow for a space that encouraged them to share their feelings of nervousness, anxiety, and fear of the unknown impacts of sharing their story.

The power of sharing a story was greatly felt at the event. I experienced the impact and emotional reaction from the participants: feelings of intrigue, comfort, and acceptance (by both the speaker and the audience). By sharing their stories, speakers were able to empower the audience to be brave and creative. Participants started conversations with each other, engaged in our “Speaker’s Corner” and some shared their own story to our Supportive Listeners who were volunteers from the Crisis Line. By the end of the day, the event felt like a community, a community where participants were interested in supporting each other and making a difference within their own lives, their social circles, or their schools.

power of sharing your story_Panel CROPIf you are thinking about sharing your story, acknowledge the power that story has. Think about the impact that sharing will have on you and others; think about what support you might need, and voice it! Give yourself enough time to feel ready. You need to take care of yourself, and your needs might not fit in with speaking right now. Don’t be afraid to let people know you are not ready. As a speaker-trainer I was surprised by how much trust was built over time, and what strong relationships I developed. I was confident that if youth were not ready to speak, they would let me know. I learned so much throughout the process, but most importantly that one story can change someone’s life and have an incredible ripple effect within our communities.

For more on the Balancing Our Minds 2015 event visit the Kelty blog on the youth summit and on everyday champions.

The Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre works to link children and youth, and their families, with appropriate resources in all areas of mental health and addictions. Kelty offers information on programs and services in BC regarding topics such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit and behavioural problems, eating disorders, and substance use. Resources are available online and in person, or by phone or email. Centre hours are 10 am to 5 pm Mondays to Fridays; call or email to arrange an appointment outside these hours.
P3-302, Mental Health Building, BC Children’s Hospital
4500 Oak Street, Vancouver, BC, V6H 3N1
phone: 604-875-2084 or toll free: 1-800-665-1822

The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Sharing Your Personal Story Speaker Toolkit

Dial or text 211, or visit the Red Book Online for services that can inform and assist you with issues on youth mental health.