October 19, 2017

Sparking mental health conversations with StoryCorps

Kaiser Permanente has partnered with StoryCorps, a national oral history project, to capture intimate conversations between 2 people who know each other well.

As a teenager, Beth Allen couldn’t quite describe some of the feelings she was experiencing. She felt joy and a zest for life but also deep despair, almost at the same time. At times, Allen just didn’t want to exist.

Years later, after graduating college, Allen had panic attacks she said felt like a heart attack, and felt so depressed she sometimes couldn’t get out of bed.

But things are different for her now. She found a combination of medication and therapy that worked for her and believes her experience can bring hope to others. Which is why when Kaiser Permanente put out a call, both inside and outside its organization, asking people to share their stories about depression and other mental health conditions, she volunteered right away.

Kaiser Permanente has partnered with StoryCorps, a national oral history project, to capture intimate conversations between two people who know each other well. In a short recording, Beth, a Kaiser Permanente graphic designer who lives in San Francisco, talks with her boyfriend, Shawn Smith.

“It’s important for people who feel depressed to know that there are other people out there who feel the same way,” Allen said about why she participated. “I’d like to help people not be ashamed or embarrassed to talk about how they feel.”

The partnership is part of Kaiser Permanente’s public health awareness campaign called Find Your Words, which launched in 2016 and aims to break the silence and reduce stigma around depression and other mental health conditions.

Beth and Shawn’s conversation — along with mental health resources, a self-assessment tool and information on how to get help — are available on findyourwords.org.

In the coming months, more conversations will be added, including one in Spanish. Each recording eventually will be accompanied by an animation of the story.

This is the first time StoryCorps has devoted recordings solely to depression and other mental health issues.

“Mental health is a big issue in our society and one that we’ve touched upon in many of our recordings ever since we began 14 years ago,” said Braden Lay-Michaels, chief external relations officer with StoryCorps. “We are hoping this partnership and this sharp focus on mental health will help people understand it and create empathy for those struggling with mental health conditions.”

The partnership, Lay-Michaels added, aligns well with the StorpCorps’ mission, which is to preserve and share experiences and stories to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

Don Mordecai, MD, the Kaiser Permanente national leader on mental health and wellness, is hoping these recordings will help fight the stigma that prevents many people with depression from getting help.

“Stigma breeds silence and prevents people from getting support. We want to end the silence,” Dr. Mordecai said. “Our hope is that hearing these stories of people who have successfully managed their mental health issues will help people feel encouraged to talk to a friend or loved one and seek help.”

Allen is no longer suffering. She’s with Shawn, who accepts her in a way no boyfriend has. She finds joys in little things and is grateful for what she has.

“It’s calming to know you are not alone. You are not alone,” Beth said at the end of her story.  “And just remember that.”