Neuroscience and Behavior students featured on MTV Mental Health Action Day for innovative project

June 13, 2022

After the end of the fall 2019 semester, Lisa Anderson, founder of the Clubhouse of St. Joseph County and professor for the center’s Living with Mental Illness course, decided on her two student teaching assistants for next year’s course. Those two students were Anna Benedict ‘21, an English and Neuroscience and Behavior major, and Louise Medina Bengtsson ‘21 who was also a Neuroscience and Behavior major. The course taught students, many of whom were bound for clinical professions, what it meant to live daily with mental illness by creating connections between undergraduates and the members and staff at Clubhouse. But with the start and continued threat of COVID-19, the course’s typical form of collaboration became impossible. 

Despite changes, Benedict and Bengtsson still wanted to find a way for students at Notre Dame to connect with Clubhouse members. They noted the growing sense of isolation and risk of mental health issues for everyone during the beginning months of the COVID-19 pandemic. With that in mind, the two created the Our Stories project, which utilized a narrative approach to growth and healing. The project randomly paired students from the Notre Dame course with a Clubhouse member to work together on a memoir writing project. Each person in the group met virtually to share stories from their life, brainstorm ideas, and write their memoirs. Benedict also hosted creative writing workshops. Once the memoirs were complete, they were compiled into a single volume that Clubhouse members could own and also that could be sold for anyone to hear their stories. 

The intent of the project was not just to forge a connection between Notre Dame and the South Bend communities during a time of isolation, but also to address the stigma around mental illness and to create something for members to be proud of. Participants found that the project succeeded in helping them view their lives in a more positive way by unearthing similarities between themselves and their project partners. This allowed individuals to view themselves not as outsiders, but as a part of the greater human experience. Many of these relationships lasted beyond the project’s end.

In March 2022 a print version of Our Stories: Narratives of Strength Through Mental Illness from the Clubhouse of St. Joseph County was self-published with a grant from the Center for Social Concerns. A few weeks later, the project’s participants finally got to meet in person for the first time at a celebration at the Clubhouse location in South Bend, Indiana. The event was an opportunity to showcase the stories and work of participants and to continue the work of reducing stigma. Finally, in May, Anderson, Benedict, and Bengtsson were all featured on MTV’s Mental Health Action Day with previous Notre Dame course participants and Clubhouse International’s director of communications, Anna Sackett Rountree. The day highlighted ways to move mental health awareness to action. The group discussed the Our Stories project as a model that others could follow and shared its effect on members and student participants. 

Copies of Our Stories: Narratives of Strength Through Mental Illness from the Clubhouse of St. Joseph County can be purchased on Amazon here