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Slaying Dragons theatrical troupe sets the stage to address mental health stigmas

(L-R) Helene Meyer, Collins Lewis and Dianne Morris talk about how theater helps address mental health stigmas.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
(L-R) Helene Meyer, Collins Lewis and Dianne Morris discussed how theater helps address mental health stigmas.

Slaying Dragons theatrical troupe uses dramas to remove the stigma of mental and emotional illness. Aiming to “give mental health a stage,” the local group puts on productions with the purpose of helping audiences better understand mental health issues.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked about Slaying Dragons’ upcoming production, "My River, My Valley," with Helene Meyer, actress and artistic director of Slaying Dragons, actress Dianne Morris and Collins Lewis, board member of Slaying Dragons and associate professor emeritus of psychiatry at Washington University.

“From the stage you are able to transmit emotional meaning to mental illness. It’s not just a lecture where you hear about the signs and symptoms,” Lewis said.

The organization began in 2011 after Meyer produced a play called “Voices of Depression.”

“As more and more people became involved [with the play], they said, ‘you really need to start an organization so you can get the word out more than you are right now,’” Meyer said.

Now the organization aims to reach as many people as they can. They’ve performed at various venues, including the Missouri History Museum, for students in nursing schools and psychiatrist meetings at the Ozarks.

Slaying Dragons portrays a number of different mental health issues in their plays besides depression and anxiety, such as Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and narcotic dependence.

“My River, My Valley” will address emotional devastation and mental grief by telling the story of how two sisters deal with the loss of their home and land due to a flooding dam.

“We do plays that are very realistic and real life, as opposed to the movies which makes things dramatic and unreal,” Lewis said. “I think [that] gets to people emotionally and that’s the important part of it.”

He said presenting more realistic points of view of people with problems helps audience members open up about their own issues or their relatives’.

“It’s safe environment in which to bring up something,” Meyer agreed. “[In his post-performance discussions] Dr. Lewis cannot give them specific advice [immediately] but I’ve heard people say many times, ‘I’ve never talked about this before.” Lewis also added that there are many ways to help treat mental health issues besides talk therapy, including medication.

Morris opened up about how stigma surrounding mental health led to her not opening up about her own struggles until she came across Slaying Dragons. She said participating with the organization helped save her life.

“Prior to Slaying Dragons, I had tried to commit suicide. [But] with them I feel like there is a family and the people there understand me, no one judges me and we’re all on the same level,” Morris said.

 “I’ll tell people to first talk about it … the key to me is the therapy and the medication. You can’t go wrong with those two, because I’ve been so healthy since then,” she added.

Through her interactions with audience members after the performances, Morris said she saw the need to help people talk about their struggles openly.

“People need to talk about this and not be ashamed. My self-esteem was so bad, but now I am feeling so empowered because people need me, I now know my purpose. [Slaying Dragons] is my purpose – I’m supposed to do this.”

Related Event:

What: Slaying Dragons Presents "My River, My Valley"
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12, 2018
Where: Regional Arts Commission Cultural Resource Center, 6128 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63112

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill andLara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.


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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.

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