An Edinburgh storyteller is helping tackle stigma around mental health through helping people tell their stories at live events.
Lily Asch has battled depression, an eating disorder and self-harming. At 13 Lily spent weeks in a psychiatric ward.
But with determination and support from a music teacher Lily turned her life around.
The entrepreneur had no plans to run a business but with a small grant of £500 from a student association the enterprising 24-year-old launched Real Talk, a social enterprise that has supported dozens tell their story at events.
At the mental health storytelling workshops, people tell their stories in front of an open audience after doing some storytelling sessions to help build up their confidence.
Lily, a graduate of Edinburgh University, gave a TEDx talk in her second year sharing her experience of mental illness. It was going to be a one-off but it sparked the idea for Real Talk.
“Not only was it powerful for me to share my story but I was amazed by how it opened the floor for others to share their own experiences - almost as if they had been waiting for the space to talk.”
After graduating Lily completed a Counselling Skills course and developed workshops with the help of a professional storyteller, Alette Willis, to give volunteers the tools to talk about their experiences.
“We really need to look at how we treat people who suffer any form of mental illness. And how we respond to them when they come forward for help.”
“Depression and mental illness can be so isolating. I felt incredibly alone at times. We often only hear it talked about when it’s a crisis. Real Talk helps provide a safe space to talk frankly about mental health.”
Before sharing their experiences in a room with strangers people who sign up to take part in the events complete two storytelling workshops. Lily says this helps protect people by promoting self-awareness.
“Not everyone is ready or at the stage where they can get up in front of people and talk about their personal experience of mental health. Doing the workshops before the live event helps people to figure it out before they put it out there.”
Real Talk delivered events as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival and runs regular events at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, where Lily is a Storytelling Apprentice.
“Stories are proven to help build empathy. People get across what is on the inside, addressing the difficulty that some people have in understanding an invisible illness. It also helps friends and family who can often feel helpless when a loved one is suffering by giving them real insight into how their loved one might be feeling. It can be really magical to see how it builds compassion.”