University of South Florida


A group photo of the 10-person cast of USF's The Is My Brave: College Edition. Everyone smiles and shows a "go bulls" hand gesture.

Local community invited to a night of storytelling in support of mental health awareness

By Torie Doll, University Communications and Marketing

From essay to dance, 10 USF students living with mental illness will share their stories in front of a live audience to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. This Is My Brave: College Edition hits the stage April 21 on the USF Tampa campus. 

The show is unlike any other production held on a performing arts stage because the cast is not made up of actors. They’re students empowered to share their personal stories of struggle. Cast members say they have come a long way since auditioning for the show. Most have little to no experience on the stage, so rehearsals have played an important role in confidence building and adjusting the performances for an audience. For some, they’re also working through the memories of their past because this is the first time that they’re publicly sharing their stories. 

“Therapy has helped me feel more comfortable talking about what I’ve been through, but I think This Is My Brave might be, I don’t want to say the final step, but an added step to that accomplishment,” said Emma Sadler, a junior studying psychology and forensic behavioral health.

Sadler is sharing her journey with mental health through a creative short story.

“I use this comparison of a porcelain doll to myself: a personification of this fragility that has been scarred over my whole entire childhood,” Sadler said. “Growing up in a toxic household, and just wanting to hide away from it, brought on anxiety and depression and left me with negative self-talk and self-image. I want to stop feeling like my scars make me ugly because they don’t, they tell my story.” 

Several mental health professionals will be in the audience, wearing special scarves that make them easily identifiable, to offer support to anyone feeling impacted at any point during the performance. 

This Is My Brave is a nonprofit organization with the goal of saving lives through storytelling. Kristin Kosyluk, assistant professor in the Department of Mental Health Law & Policy and director of the USF Stigma Action Research (STAR) lab, has been working with the organization since 2016 to evaluate the effectiveness of its stigma reduction programming. The ongoing evaluation involves multiple research studies to understand the impact on the audience members as well as the storytellers themselves. “Research has shown that when it comes to addressing stigma, specifically the stigma surrounding behavioral health conditions, storytelling is the most effective tool for this,” Kosyluk said.

Judy Genshaft Honors College freshman Karla Evangelista De La Rosa is studying cell and molecular biology and public health and is telling her journey with anxiety and depression through an essay. “I’m someone who struggles to articulate my emotions to people, so I hope performing will give me some comfort in being able to tell other people how I feel,” Evangelista De La Rosa said. “I also hope people in the audience get a better understanding of what it’s like to live with mental illness.”

This is the second annual production of This Is My Brave at USF. New this year, is the integration of the Photovoice exhibit. While the stage show is limited to student performers, the Photovoice exhibit features the experiences of USF staff and faculty displayed in the form of photography and captions transcribed from group discussions. Click here to learn more about the show and the STAR lab’s research.

This Is My Brave: College Edition will be held on April 21 at 7 p.m. in the Concert Hall on the USF Tampa campus. Click here to reserve your free tickets.

Reserve your tickets now! University of South Florida, This Is My Brave: College Edition. Friday, April 21 at 7pm. Music Concert Hall at the USF School of Music. Admission is free. This event requires tickets to accommodate our general admission seating.

[Photos and graphics courtesy of the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences.]

This Is My Brave: College Edition at USF has received generous support from the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at USF.

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