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MIMH Brings Conversational Theatre to Conference Focused on Breast Cancer Awareness

MIMH Brings Conversational Theatre to Conference Focused on Breast Cancer Awareness

Nov/10/2014 | by Dan Musgrave

The Missouri Institute of Mental Health (MIMH) introduced a new way to reach attendees at the 2014 Knowledge is Power Conference by creating a conversational theatre piece, “Black Funk,” to address breast cancer in women of color and the related mental health issues.

The conference is a free educational event that features breakout sessions to discuss black women and breast cancer with the goals of convening a diverse group of service providers and initiating interdisciplinary thinking on how successful service delivery models of care address healthcare disparities. This year’s conference, which was held Nov. 1 at UMSL, was co-sponsored by the MIMH and drew approximately 300 attendees. The arts were employed to better engage participants.

The event’s coordinator, Dr. Margaret Barton-Burke, Associate Professor and Mary Ann Lee Professor in Oncology, College of Nursing, worked with the MIMH’s Andrea Purnell, Director of Communications and an actress, to create the conversational theatre piece, “Black Funk.” Conversational theatre is a unique method of communication and audience engagement. Purnell performed the piece with the assistance of a conversation facilitator to manage discussions after each scene. This format allows and encourages conference attendees to explore feelings and alleviate mental barriers surrounding their own intense emotional experiences through a safe theatrical outlet.

One of the underlying themes of the conference was community awareness and eliminating the silence that often surrounds breast cancer. “Black Funk” examined the life of a young, black woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The piece focused on the importance of early screening, maintaining healthy supportive relationships with loved ones, and managing one’s mental health while also combatting breast cancer.

Though deaths from breast cancer are decreasing overall on a national scale, women of color are still disproportionately affected by the disease. The Knowledge is Power Conference hopes to shed light on this discrepancy and consider new, innovative ways to improve health care outcomes across communities.

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