What words come to mind when you think of someone suffering from mental illness? “Psycho. Mental. Incompetent. Crazy. Unhinged," are the opening lines, recited loudly, in the dark, of the new play Manic Monologues. Everyone has an idea in their head of what mental illness looks like. But what do you imagine when you hear that term, do you imagine an ivy league student going for a PhD?
Mental illness does not discriminate. In fact, a staggering 1 in 5 Americans deals with a mental health disorder in any given year, and a recent study has revealed that mental health disorders are on the rise for todays teens. Yet the stigma surrounding mental illness stifles meaningful conversation and further, prevents people from seeking help, which often leads to isolation, causing further harm.
Zack Burton and his girlfriend Elisa Hofmeister know this feedback loop well and decided to do something about it. A few years ago, Zack experienced his first psychotic break while studying for his PhD qualifying exams at Stanford University and was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. On the road to recovery they were having trouble finding relatable stories of people living with mental illness and came to find out that three of their closest friends had actually had similar experiences. The stigma and shame were so bad, they didn’t even know about it. Something had to be done. Manic Monologues was born.
“We want to reclaim the word ‘manic.’ The vagina monologues have done an incredible amount of work de-stigmatizing female sexuality and we wanted to do the same thing with mental illness.” Zack and Elisa started off soliciting stories from Facebook and Stanford communities and put together 15 stories of mental illness, from sad and heartbreaking, to hilarious, uplifting and, powerful. Manic Monologues ran three sold-out shows in May 2019 at Stanford and will run at UCLA in February 2020.
Neither had any prior experience in Theater, they have been advised by an incredible team including Dr. Rona Hu, Medical Director of the Acute Psychiatric Inpatient Unit at Stanford Hospital and advisor to Netflix's 13 Reasons Why, Victoria Maxwell, a performing artist living with multiple mental illnesses and featured in The New York Times, CNN, WSJ, and Psychology Today, Dr. Seema Yasmin, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and medical doctor, and playwright and Pulitzer finalist Amy Freed.
Their ultimate goal is to make Manic Monologues available on campuses everywhere to start a conversation and smash the stigma surrounding mental illness. The problem is growing and in order to bring awareness to it, it must be talked about.
If you would like to bring Manic Monologues to your High School or College, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.