Research done by Logan Regional Hospital and the Bear River Health Department suggests one in five adults in Cache Valley faces depression.
In response, members of the Cache Valley community, including Utah State University students, created the Facing Depression in Cache Valley Project, or the Facing Project.
Jenni Allred, the main organizer of the Facing Project, started the program in June 2016 after learning about the research done by the hospital and witnessing issues related to depression.
The project was done through the efforts of two entities: USU’s Center for Civic Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL) and Logan’s chapter of AmeriCorps.
The project aims to bring the topic of depression and mental illness to the forefront of discussion by telling the stories of those affected by mental health challenges. Allred and others on the project anticipate it will help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Allred and other organizers put out advertisements asking people to share their stories. By the end of the project, they were able to gather the stories of 24 people who have experienced depression.
Allred said the stories that were gathered represented a diverse selection of people who suffered from depression — people of a wide age range of ethnicities, religions and political affiliations.
“Lots of (their stories) are really just about them working with and making depression manageable so that they can have a good life,” she said.
Stories were written down and published in a book. The Facing Project was able to raise enough money to publish 1000 books, which will be available for free to USU students and members of the community.
The stories were performed at the Whittier Community Center on Saturday, after which free depression screenings were offered by Intermountain Health Care.
Allred said mental health evaluation screenings were offered to anyone at the event who wanted one. Those who were diagnosed with some form of depression will be referred to a mental health professional within seven days of being screened.
The stories were also performed by USU’s Theatre Arts department on Friday and Saturday at the Black Box Theatre at Utah State.
“A lot of the stories are very eye-opening,” said Sara Bailey, the lead editor of the project. “Depression isn’t something that we talk about all that much. A lot of people don’t realize what people who face or experience it go through.”
Bailey said reading the stories will be an eye-opening and powerful experience and will help people understand how to help their family and friends who struggle with depression and mental illness.
The project endeavored to raise awareness of mental health issues, but also to build a stronger community in Cache Valley, said Becca Hippo, who works at the Center for Civic Engagement and Service Learning.
“Just seeing how much this impacts everyone — whether you have depression yourself or you know someone that does — seeing everyone step forward and share their stories and their experiences and then bonding over that,” was a community-building experience, Hippo said.
The group is unsure if the project will continue to actively advocate for depression. They hope members of the community will take dealing with mental illness into their own hands.
Alyssa Witbeck, an assistant editor for the project, said the Facing Project isn’t simply for depression and mental illness, but advocates for other issues that tend to be misunderstood or stereotyped as well.
The ultimate hope, Allred said, is that people will begin to understand each other more and have an open dialogue.
“I think that this raises our ability to be empathic with each other,” Allred said. “I think we need a ton more of that — a lot more empathy and patience for each other.”
Photo courtesy of the Facing Project