Blog /Mind Freedom
This year's theme for the 25th Alternatives conference is "Coming Home: Creating Our Own Communities of Wellness and Recovery." I felt right at home at the "Oral History Projects: We've Done Them and You Can Too" workshop. I love audio and good storytelling, which is why I host our PEERS podcast. Oral history is more than what sounds good to the ears. As co-facilitator Oryx Cohen from the Empowerment Center noted in the presentation, oral history can be a tool for social change.
Often what I hear from consumers is that a major help in their recovery process was when someone gave them a voice and cared enough to listen. Oral history stories play a part in silencing stigma. Someone not knowledgeable of mental health issues can hear the story and voice of another's experience. I think that's far more powerful and educational than getting your information on mental health from a film or news story that displays the same old stereotypes of people with mental health challenges as being subhuman and incapable of functioning in society.
With the Internet, oral histories posted online can reach consumers all over the world. Cohen told the crowd that a consumer institutionalized in South Africa called him on his cell phone in United States. The consumer had access to the oral history project Cohen directed called Mind Freedom. Of course, Cohen wondered how some man in South Africa found his cell phone number. But, that speaks to power of letting someone tell their own story.
Social change takes some change, as in money. Co-facilitator Bill Shumaker chronicles stories of mental health recovery from consumers in Arkansas. For his ongoing project "In the Voices of Experience and Recovery Oral History Project," Shumaker's team was able to attain $25,000 in grant funding. Smaller oral history projects may not require as much. Shumaker also emphasized seeking legal help to draft an interview agreement for subjects to sign.
At the end of the workshop I filled out an evaluation form. One of the questions asked if we would use the information learned in the workshop. Bill Shumaker and Oryx Cohen definitely planted a seed in my head. My answer to that question is, "Oh yeah."
Oryx Cohen and Bill Shumaker