2019-01-01 / Shorts

This Is His Brave

Depression survivor brings mental health event to town
Maggie Anderson

Shawn Henfling performs as part of This Is My Brave in Philadelphia. He and co-producer Skylar Dawn (below) are bringing a similar show to State College.Shawn Henfling performs as part of This Is My Brave in Philadelphia. He and co-producer Skylar Dawn (below) are bringing a similar show to State College.

Most of us use text messages every day to deliver simple messages: “Good morning!” “Can you get milk?” “I love you.” What we don’t always see is the effect those might have on the recipient. For Bellefonte resident Shawn Henfling, there’s one text message in particular that completely changed his life.

“A friend I hadn’t spoken to since college reached out, really at random, just as I was about to actually pull the trigger on my own suicide,” he says. “I’m one of those people who can’t let a text go unanswered. She legitimately saved my life.”

This isn’t the first time Henfling has told this story. Last June, he got on stage in Philadelphia in front of an audience of 200 to share his experience with depression and suicide. The event, which featured multiple personal perspectives on mental health, was part of a national organization called This Is My Brave, and the experience was so moving that Henfling started working to bring it to State College.
“Having people reach out to let me know how they’ve been affected by what I wrote gave me meaning rather than just this awful black cloud of emotion and pain,” he says. “I actually had a purpose for a change.”

That purpose for the full-time photographer includes advocacy and volunteering with local organizations like the Centre County Suicide Prevention Task Force, the Mental Health Intellectual Disabilities Early Intervention (ME/ID/EI) Advisory Board, the county’s Zero Suicide initiative, the local chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Centre Helps’ 24-hour hotline. He is also going to school full time to earn a master’s in social work with the goal of becoming a therapist.

“We all grow up with these vague ideas of what we want to do,” says Henfling, “and mine was that I wanted to help people. But I had zero clue how I wanted to make that happen. I saw how speaking out could change things, and I realized how much therapy helped me, and I decided that was how I was going to help.”

Henfling is co-producing the April 26 show at The State Theatre with State College resident Skylar Dawn, who also participated in the Philadelphia show last year.

“When I was going to the audition I asked her to come along with me because I knew she had a powerful story as well and that people would be moved by it,” says Henfling.

For the State College show, Henfling and Dawn will each develop new pieces that will bookend about a dozen performances by local residents. Auditions will be held on Jan. 19 and 20, and Henfling says anyone is welcome to come share their story about dealing with mental health issues of all kinds — and in all kinds of ways.

“What they do is up to them,” he says. “You can do a comedy skit, an interpretive dance, a song, poetry, spoken word — the type of piece is really up to the individual. We just want to make sure that their story gives people hope, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” •SCM

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