Tag: 30Days30Stories

What we learned from the #30Days30Stories project in 2022 

Thirty storytellers shared their stories of struggles with mental health and how they are finding resilience as part of Lost&Found’s 30 Days, 30 Stories project, which was part of National Suicide Prevention Month in September. Here, we reflect on what we learned from the project.

 

1. Finding storytellers was easier than it was in our first year, but challenges remain.

  • From staff members and partners in the mental health profession, we were able to come up with a list of more than 50 names of potential storytellers. “People are waiting to tell their stories; we just have to ask them to do so,” said L&F Community Engagement Manager Joel Kaskinen. “In our second year of this campaign, I found it easier to find people to share their stories, which tells me our communities are more open to sharing and the stigma around mental illness and suicide is decreasing.”
  • While getting stories, photos, and videos from about 20 storytellers from our list of potential storytellers was fairly straightforward, finding the last 10 was more difficult. Some potential storytellers didn’t feel it was the right time to tell their stories. Five people submitted stories, but we were unable to follow up to schedule photos with them. “Recruiting seemed rushed at the end,” said Prevention Programming Specialist Melissa Renes. “I would suggest offering the opportunity year-round and making it more normalized to share instead of requesting stories later in the year.”

 

2. We made improvements in recruiting stories that represent the diversity in our communities.

“I think the attempt to find diverse stories helped show that we were inclusive, and that mental health does not discriminate,” Renes said. “It put faces to the work we are doing.”

  • One significant improvement was telling more stories from the LGBTQIA2S+ community. More than 30 percent of storytellers indicated they are something other than heterosexual (including “prefer not to disclose”). This is important, because surveys (such as this one from the Trevor Project) indicate that LGBTQIA2S+ individuals are at higher risk for suicide. Telling these stories empowers the storytellers and helps to foster understanding empathy and understanding in the rest of society.
  • Our storyteller demographics in terms of race were not yet representative of the state as a whole or of the demographics of suicide in South Dakota. Native Americans make up 8.5 percent of South Dakota residents, and 20 percent of suicides in South Dakota (2012-21) were of Native Americans; just 1, or 3 percent, of our storytellers was Native. We had stories from three additional Native Americans but were unable to connect with them for photos and videos, which suggests we need to work on our process to accommodate people who might have difficulty traveling or taking off from work to meet us for a photo shoot. We hope to be able to connect with some or all of those storytellers for next year’s project.
  • We didn’t have as many stories as we’d hoped from people in our target age group. Sixty percent were in the target age group of 10-34. Forty percent of our storytellers were 35 to 54. We definitely value stories of resilience from people of any age, but it would be nice to have more stories from people who are in our target demographic.
  • While we improved in our gender balance from last year, 70 percent of our storytellers were women. “Young women are the most willing to share their stories,” Kaskinen said. “Women aged 10-34 was also the demographic that we reached most through social media.” We will continue to work to break through the limiting “tough guy” stereotype that men can’t talk about their mental health.

 

3. Storytellers gave a wide variety of resources that helped them find resilience.

“The resources showcased emphasized that when looking at recovery and maintaining positive mental health, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Renes said. The categories of resources suggested were professional mental health care (31 percent), family and friends (20 percent), other strategies (20 percent), support groups (14 percent), educational resources (10 percent) and crisis resources (4 percent). (Most storytellers cited more than one resource.)

  • Storytellers cited professional mental health care (in a variety of forms) most often when they listed resources that had helped them. While it’s wonderful that people have found help through professional services, this makes it that much more important to try to get more people into the mental health profession. There are not enough people to meet the need currently.

 

4. Storytellers shared a message of hope: It is possible to improve mental health.

  • The path from a dark place to a better place varies greatly from person to person, but it often starts with communication. This communication can come from person struggling: Speaking up about what is going on with them, connecting with a resource, or asking for help. But storytellers often welcomed the care of a friend or family member to start the conversation, and they wished more people had voiced their care and concern. “A theme I noticed throughout stories was that people wished more had talked to them, or they would have liked to know more resources were there,” Renes said.

 

The project had an impressive 183,455 impressions across all media! Here are some additional statistics on the reach of the project through the web, social media, and the Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast:

 

This image lists website, social media, and podcast statistics for the 30 Days, 30 Stories campaign, including for the website, podcasts, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. The most impressive stat is total impressions across all media: 183,455.

 

What We Learned from the #30Days30Stories Project

For the month of September, Lost&Found shared 30 stories of resilience from people who have dealt with mental health and suicide. Since we finished that intense month of storytelling, we reflected on what we learned from the #30Days30Stories project.

 

1. Storytelling is suicide prevention.

  • Talking about mental health is the first step to improving it. Whether it is speaking up because you yourself need help, or speaking up to see if your friend is OK, talking about mental health and thoughts of suicide saves lives. It helps us feel less alone. Plus, when we say our darkest feelings out loud, we are able to be supported in these feelings.
  • We must talk about our emotions and mental health to reduce the stigma. We as a society have gotten better about talking about depression, anxiety, and sadness, but there are still stigmas related to many aspects of mental health and suicide that prevent people from addressing their mental health problems. Also, it’s sometimes easier to encourage a friend or family member to get help than to get help yourself. The more we talk about mental health through stories, the more we can break down stigmas.
  • Storytelling is important in part because much of Lost&Found’s work is identity- and relationship-based. Because mental health is tied to each of our unique identities and experiences, storytelling is an intensive and critical element of our work. The project also highlighted how much networks matter to help us find and share those stories.
  • Stories and statistics work together to paint the full picture of mental illness in our communities. We’ve all heard about the increase in mental health support needs in our area, state, and nation, but we haven’t all heard the stories of lived experience that accompany those statistics. Stories allow us to see more than the numbers do.
  • Storytelling can help us heal. Storytelling is helpful in the healing process for the author, editor, and reader. While it can be difficult to read stories of loss, abuse, and hardship, knowing that the individual is here with us today is powerful. The stories help us know what we can do to support each other.

 

2. Some stories are more likely to be told than others.

  • Men are still reluctant to share their emotions. Overwhelmingly, we didn’t have the turnout of male storytellers that we would like to see. Only six of the 31 stories that we shared were from men or male-presenting people. All are white-presenting and grew up in the Midwest. This is one obstacle that we need to overcome. The “Midwest manly mentality,” for lack of better term, is still keeping men from speaking up. We need to flip the script if we’re going to remove the shame and stigma and allow men to feel comfortable sharing their feelings and struggles.
  • We can do more to elevate Native American, rural, and LGBTQ2S+ stories in our state. Although the #303Days30Stories covered a breadth of experiences and mental health conditions, the stories came from people who were overwhelmingly White and mostly female, in terms of gender identity. Ultimately, if we wish to be most effective in a project meant to serve as a point of connection as well as a public service announcement, we need to be intentional about connecting with Native American and rural-focused organizations, as well as connecting with LGBTQ2S+ storytellers. Suicide statistics in South Dakota suggest these communities have many more stories to tell, and telling them could save lives.
  • It was significantly easier to find mental health advocates with prior experience or connection to our work to share their story. Many of our participants had previous experience either explaining their mental health conditions with a professional or their family and friends. It may be easier to find storytellers who have already had to explain their experience in some capacity.

 

3. Improving mental health is possible.

  • Many instances of suicidal ideation are related to trauma. Whether physical trauma, sexual abuse, physical abuse, serious accidents, or major losses, trauma affects our brain and our emotions. Trauma can often lead to depression and feelings of despair. However, there is hope: Trauma can be part of your story, but it doesn’t need to write your story. Knowing this helps people in their lifelong journey of resilience.
  • Doctors, medication, and therapies can and do help. It’s easier to want to “tough it out” than to want to go to see the doctor or a therapist for bad feelings, intrusive thoughts, and mental health issues. However, these things help! Sometimes it takes a while to find the right medication, the right therapist, or the right system of support. But when a person finds the support(s) that work(s) for them, it is life changing! If you’re reading this and are on this journey — or know someone on this journey — continue to have patience. It might be difficult right now, but it won’t always be.
  • Resilient communities do in fact prevent suicide. Many of the storytellers found their strength and support through friends and family. We heard people talk about therapy and medication, yoga, fitness, etc., but the source of strength noted in every single story was at least one trusted person. By building resilient communities and fostering relationships above all else, lives are being saved.

 

4. Having a greater impact on the mental health system is possible, both with this project and beyond it.

  • The project’s reach was surprising. We knew that this project would have a great impact and a large return on investment, but the social media analytics were stunning. We reached thousands of people online. Imagine what we could do if everyone felt safe and comfortable sharing their story and if word of mouth/print testimonials were shared too.  With an intentional planning process, this project has the prospect of becoming more widely distributed, supported, and impactful in 2022. It has the potential to change conversations in South Dakota for years to come.
  • People relate to their friends, family, and colleagues’ stories of experience with mental health and suicide much more readily than to an organization’s general message. Stories varied in how much engagement they had. The storytellers who shared their stories within their personal networks had the widest reach. Many new people engaged with Lost&Found for the first time simply because someone in their circle was willing to share their story.
  • There is still work to be done. A favorite quote says, “We are restless because there is still work to be done,” and the stories, statistics, and response to this project collectively support this idea: There’s a lot of restlessness out there. Many people in our state and country can’t feel comfortable right now because they sense there is something bigger or better or more impactful that they could be doing with their time. That restlessness is a motivator, and some of those people have moved into action. We at Lost&Found can use that restlessness to do more to move people to take actions that save lives.

 

Here’s what the storytellers taught us: