storytelling

Mental Health, Romantic Relationships, Stigma, and Storytelling

Dr. Allison Sallee, founder of C2 Change: an Austin nonprofit offering free or-low cost mental healthcare services.

Dr. Allison Sallee, founder of C2 Change: an Austin nonprofit offering free or-low cost mental healthcare services.

Dually inspired by NAMI’s recent article on mental illness and relationships, and Cider Spoon’s own forthcoming book on romantic relationships of all stripes (both healthy and not-so-hot), this month’s blog entry is dedicated to overcoming the stigma of mental illness in romantic relationships, and exploring the role that storytelling can play.

Here, I’ve interviewed Dr. Allison Sallee of C2 Change to help us understand this nuanced issue. Dr. Sallee is a featured contributor to Of Tiny Threads (Forty Acres Press, June 2018). Proceeds from book sales benefit C2 Change’s Twogether in Texas curriculum.

***

What are two of the most common mental health issues prompting couples to seek out therapy today?

Couples most commonly come in requesting help with communication. Poor communication or miscommunication can lead to feelings of disconnection, further contributing to communication concerns.

Secondly, couples often come in regarding their children. They have questions about how best to parent; how to manage the grandparents and/or other extended family members who may be involved; and blended family issues.

How do people in romantic relationships say they have experienced stigma (in regard to their mental health) from their significant other?

Sometimes, one partner may view seeking help as “weak”—or may be scared that seeking help means that the relationship is doomed or in more serious trouble than they want to acknowledge. This fear can often shut down the one partner’s attempt to resolve issues. 

Significant others may also stigmatize their partner’s issues: criticizing them for a reaction to grief, for instance, or for being diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder.

How does storytelling, or sharing their stories, help partners cope with and/or better understand mental health issues?

Sharing stories is an essential human activity. It is one way we connect with others on both small and big levels. When partners share their stories, it can develop and foster empathy. In addition, it helps the other partner to stop making assumptions about the first partner’s behavior.

***

For twelve real-life stories from married couples (and one thruple!) in America—as well as more illuminating insights from C2 Change therapists Dr. Allison Sallee and Brendan Owens—order your copy of Of Tiny Threads today.

Do you know HONY?

Humans of New York, or HONY as the popular epithet goes, began as a one-man project in downtown New York City. Photographer Brandon Stanton started snapping sensitive photos of average Big Apple denizens, and captioning them with soundbites from longer interviews about their lives, their hopes, and their regrets. As of July 2015, HONY has over 13 million likes on its Facebook page, 3.3 million Instagram followers, and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charitable efforts through platforms like Indiegogo.

I am one of those 13 millions Facebook fans who pause to consider every HONY photo that pops up on my newsfeed and read its alternately harrowing, hilarious, haunting, or heartwarming story. There’s nothing false or contrived or fictionalized about it; Brandon simply captures what is, and these briefly frozen moments in time remind us of and reunite us in our shared humanity. Since its 2010 inception, HONY has taken several side-jaunts to Austin, Boston, and most recently, made stops in Jordan, Israel, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Ukraine, India, Nepal, Vietnam, and Mexico as part of a “World Tour” sponsored by the United Nations. In the same way that HONY made New Yorkers feel like all our friends, suddenly people as far away as Israel where made more real, more humanized, by expressing dreams and doubts that so closely mirrored our own in the States. THAT is the power of story.

You don’t have to have kids to tell your story to for other people to find it interesting. YOUR story is already a bestseller because parts of it are our stories, too. To share your experiences is to guide our own fingers to our beating pulses, whereupon we may joyfully shout, “Yes, yes, we are alive!”