Bridget Frank radiates good cheer. Her voice blossoms when she discusses her day and her mouth curls with the hint of a smile as she talks about an Idaho nonprofit. That said, her commitment to the nonprofit, the Idaho chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, could not be more serious.
"Having lost my uncle to suicide, I kind of connected to a lot of people at this organization," Frank said.
Sad to say, Frank's uncle wouldn't be the last member of her family lost to suicide. On Sept. 23, 2017, Frank's son took his life during his fifth deployment on a Navy submarine.
"After he died, everyone started connecting to me," she said, her voice cracking a bit as she spoke about how her fellow AFSP board members reached out to her.
In the midst of all that tragedy, Frank met Erin Lorensen, now-former board member of the Idaho branch of AFSP and local producer of This is My Brave Boise, an event that could be described in a word as "sharing"—it features local storytellers sharing their stories and vulnerability through essays, poetry and/or original music.
At a national level, This is My Brave started in 2011 with a blog authored by Jennifer Marshall that uncovered a community of survivors who'd been touched by mental illness.
"Everything that I had worried about [before sharing my story], and had feared that I thought might happen, did not happen," Marshall said. "[There] was an outpouring of support. People would say two things: 'Thank you for sharing your story,' and they would turn around and tell me their story. I remember I said to myself, 'I'm onto something.' It's reciprocal vulnerability. It's powerful. What can we do? Then, I came up with celebrating people's recoveries."
From there, Marshall partnered with her friend and co-founder Anne Marie Ames. Together, they launched the idea of This is My Brave on Kickstarter, reaching nearly double their initial goal of $5,500 in just 31 days. On the day of the first show in Arlington, Virginia, in 2014, the two women hosted a sold-out performance attended by over 400 people.
Lorensen said she first heard of This is My Brave while researching nonprofits when she competed for the title of Miss Idaho in 2015. She said she was interested in creating an Idaho chapter, but that wish drifted away with time. It wasn't until the latter part of 2016, when Lorensen shared thoughts on her own depression on Facebook, that This is My Brave came back into her life, this time in a big way.
"When [Marshall] commented on my post, asking me to tell my story at a This is My Brave event, I was starstruck," said Lorensen. Shortly thereafter, Marshall sent Lorensen a "playbook" that guided her through mounting a Boise-based production of This is My Brave.
The first This is My Brave Boise was produced in February of 2017, and now Lorensen is busy producing another edition, set for Monday, Oct. 8, at the Boise State Special Events Center.
In addition to Bridget Frank, storytellers will include Sivaquoi Laughlin, Teresa Boardman and several others. Because of the sensitive nature of the presentations, Lorensen said there will be mental health professionals on standby for audience members who need support at any point during the evening.
While some members of the public may shy away from such a visceral event, where the deepest of vulnerabilities are shared openly, This is My Brave storytellers say they embrace the opportunity and, in fact, consider it activism.
"This is my opportunity to put my money where my mouth is. If I'm going to promote that we need to talk about it, I need to take the lead," Boardman said.
Indeed, advocates say mental health awareness has been lacking in Idaho, in spite of the fact that the Gem State ranks eighth in the nation in deaths per capita from suicide, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
"In northern and eastern Idaho, where it's more agricultural, people are raised to 'Suck it up,' or 'Tell yourself to be happy,' and not get help. You're considered weak if you go get help," Lorensen said.
Frank spoke to that mentality, which her son faced in the military, where authorities refused to medicate him because he was aboard a submarine, even after he sought help for anxiety and depression.
"When you put all those mental illnesses and push a kid into the military, he's going to explode," she said. "They push you until they can't push you anymore."
This is My Brave provides a release from that stigma.
"There is no stigma. There are no stereotypes. We're all in this together," Frank said.
This is My Brave audiences can expect laughter one moment and tears the next. After the performance, storytellers encourage attendees to stay, ask questions and talk.
"I'm here to say, 'Hey, I'm hanging in there. You can too,'" Frank said.If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs support, please reach out for help by calling or texting the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at 208-398-4357. All calls are confidential and anonymous.