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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Last Updated: 6/22/2012

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)


Erasing the Distance
Chicago, Illinois

Start Date

Brief Description
Chicago-based Erasing the Distance (ETD) is dedicated to shedding light on mental illness through theatre. We tour our original productions—as well as facilitated audience dialogues, mental health trainings, and high quality mental health resources—to junior high and high schools, colleges and universities, places of worship, hospitals, community groups, and workplaces. Erasing the Distance also creates customized productions to help communities give voice to their own mental health stories and leads long term artistic residencies in schools. Our goal: to generate awareness, stimulate dialogue, disarm stigma, and connect people to information and resources that ignite the healing process. Founded in 2005, our programs have been seen by over 20,000 people in the past 5 years.

1 in 4 people in the United States will live with a mental health disorder in any given year. 50% of these people will experience their first symptoms by age 14, and 75% by age 24. Yet stigma, silence, and shame still keep far too many people from understanding these illnesses and seeking help and support. Currently the average person waits 10 years before seeking treatment. We need to close that gap! As with any other illness, early identification and treatment are key to the recovery process. It is vital that we begin talking about this in our communities and in our schools, and that we find creative ways to get that conversation started. That’s exactly what Erasing the Distance does!

Inspired by drama programs that use theatre to help consumers explore their own experiences with mental illness, ETD adapted this model to reach out further to general audiences in need of education, support, and opportunities to give voice to their struggles around this topic. We create our shows by collecting true stories of mental illness through recorded interviews. The stories can be from the individual him/herself or from family members, loved ones, friends, spouses, or co-workers. From these interviews, we craft original scripts that honor each story teller’s unique voice and experience. We then hire professional actors to perform these stories. Each performance is followed by a facilitated dialogue to allow the audience to ask questions and discuss what they have seen in a safe forum. We provide mental health resources to help connect our audiences with information, treatment and support. We also offer mental health trainings. Our actors and staff all complete mental health trainings to educate them about mental illness before they take the stage. In addition, ETD has a mental health advisory board composed of a diverse range of clinical professionals who offer us feedback and input about our programming. We also partner with organizations such as The National Institute of Mental Health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Greater Chicago, and OCD Chicago to ensure we remain current and cutting edge in the information we share with audiences.

Erasing the Distance performances, dialogues, and trainings have been held all over the state of Illinois and beyond. The company is repeatedly brought back for return visits and deeper partnerships and consistently receives high praise for their high quality programming, the mental health knowledge and expertise of the staff, and their ability to make an often taboo subject safe and comfortable to discuss on a deep and meaningful level. ETD has received multi-year grants from the City of Chicago as well as a prestigious Vision Award from 3 Arts, a Chicago-based foundation committed to supporting artists (especially women, people of color, and people with disabilities) working in the fields of music, theater, and visual arts. Here is what some of our audience members and clients have to say about our programming: “Your play about mental illness devised from personal stories was powerful. It opened a door for my students, and they have been walking through that door everyday now since.” Avi Lessing, Oak Park River Forest High School Teacher “The performance was amazing. I’ve had so many great conversations with our volunteers and students who attended the event. It really had a huge impact on us and will definitely transfer over to our client service.” Lucy Mullany, LIFT (formerly known as National Student Partnerships) “I just had to let you know how astonishing, moving and valuable I found the performance. As a person who has struggled with depression/anxiety, I found it so very healing and personal. As a theatre creator, I marveled at your success in engaging both our hearts and our analytical minds.” Julie, Audience member

For more information about our work, to share a story, or to bring us to your community, please contact Brighid O'Shaughnessy, Executive Artistic Director by e-mail Our address is 6504 N. Winchester, Chicago, IL 60626; our Web site is; and our Blog is


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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.