Much More Than Just a ‘Face in the Crowd’

The following piece has been penned by Helen Kenny from GROW’s Gorey group, in Co. Wexford, about ‘A Face in the Crowd’, a play which explores stories of darkness, hope and recovery in mental illness, and is based on true accounts of local people with lived experience of mental health challenges. The play featured GROW and was staged last month in Co. Wexford.

There was no fanfare or loud music to announce the play. Five chairs, five actors, five stories.

The audience was silent as the actors began to tell their stories. True stories, real stories, real lives. All joined in their struggle with mental illness. You could feel the pain, hurt and deep sadness that each one had endured in their lives, just trying to live an ordinary life. It cost them their friends, jobs and sometimes even their families. People did not understand, and were afraid to ask or help in any way. It was easier to stay away and pretend nothing was wrong.

The harsh reality of mental illness was told on stage. Noone was shocked or ran away. The huge stigma connected to mental illness and suicide has prevented people from telling their stories.

One woman’s story told how her only social outlet was her weekly GROW meeting. The loneliness is as bad as the illness, trying to hide the mental illness adds to the anxiety, stress and guilt. Sometimes only family members know and keep the secret within the family. The secret could be kept for generations.

The only way the stigma can be addressed is by talking and telling, being heard and understanding about mental health and recovery. People do recover by taking medication and looking for support from their families and even their community and by joining a support group like GROW.

Thank you to all those brave people who told their stories, I applaud each and everyone of them and the actors who told their stories so well. It ended with a man telling the sad story of a friend’s suicide on Christmas eve and the despair and guilt he felt after. I hope every county in Ireland see this play. Any one of us could be just a “face in the crowd”