A! Magazine for the Arts

Taking the Fear & Misunderstanding Out of Mental Illness

January 26, 2011

ABINGDON, VA - When the Barter Theatre staff began planning for a new community Big Read, they decided to focus on the poems and stories of Edgar Allan Poe - but with a twist.

In addition to emphasizing Poe's genius and creative artistry, the planners enlisted the help of mental health professionals in this year's Big Read, since Poe probably suffered from manic depression and clinical paranoia as well as drug and alcohol abuse.

Because there is still so much misunderstanding, fear and embarrassment about mental illness, some Big Read programs will educate the community about mental health issues. Several people will share their recovery experiences, and professionals will discuss advances in mental health service delivery.

These Big Read events are sponsored by a coalition of mental health professionals who meet regularly as the Creative Ideas Committee. Representatives are from Emory & Henry College, Highlands Community Services, Mt. Rogers Community Services, Cumberland Mountain Community Services, the Southwest Virginia Mental Health Institute, and the Family and Consumer Support Services Committee of the Southwest Virginia Mental Health Board.

Feb. 28, 2011: In Our Own Voice, sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), will be presented at 7 p.m. on Barter's Stage II.

Clients from Highlands Community Services, Cumberland Mountain Community Services, and Mt. Rogers Community Services will share compelling and personal testimonies of living with and overcoming the challenges posed by mental illness.

Audience participation is encouraged, and a brief video with a variety of stories accompanies the presentations.

By broadening people's knowledge of mental illness, the participants hope that misunderstanding, fear, and judgment will be replaced with insight, awareness, and acceptance.

More "Big Read' Programs

During The Big Read, Poe's works will be discussed and celebrated and will serve as the basis for discussions on the fine line between genius and madness. Poe's exploration of the darkness he saw in the world and his own tragic life spawned such tales as "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Fall of the House of Usher," along with poems such as "The Raven," "Annabel Lee" and scores of others. Although credited with inventing modern detective fiction because he delved into the macabre world of death, premature burial and the darkness, Poe was also a satirist and well-known literary critic.

Poe Film Festival

As part of The Big Read 2011 Celebration, the Washington County Public Library in Abingdon will present an Edgar Allan Poe film festival. 276-676-6222, www.wcpl.net

Poe-Inspired Poetry & Art Contest

If your muse begins to whisper when she hears "It is nothing but the wind in the chimney, it is only a mouse crossing the floor..." from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," then The Big Read's Poetry & Art Contest provides you an outlet for your inspiration. For questions, call 276-676-6391.

>> Mental Illness: "In Our Own Voice"