Sadness, discouraged, grief, these are all normal human emotions. Everyone has those feelings from time to time and they usually go away within a few days, maybe even hours. Depression is something more; a period of overwhelming sadness, can often involves a loss of interest in things that usually bring pleasure.

The UCLA Center for Health Services and Society is hoping to capitalize on one of America’s great pleasures, situation comedy, to raise awareness about depression and its effects.

The UCLA Center for Health Services and Society are putting together a play “The One with Friends”, written by Joseph Mango and directed by Ashley Griggs. The mission of the play is to help de-stigmatize depression and the performances are tied to October as Depression and Mental Health Screening month.

HSS staff member Joseph Mango wrote the play back in 2013 and has finally brought it to life. The play follows an aspiring writer and a struggling actor, confronting the feelings of depression and yearning for success in life.

Joseph Mango, from the Semel Institute Center for Health Services and Society (HSS) at the University of California, Los Angeles is conducting a research study involving depression and referring to the arts as a coping mechanism. The study will measure the stigma of depression, addressing the fact there is very little correlation between the arts and mental health.

For the last century, many people turn to the arts to escape. Americans today have the option of watching various television shows through Amazon, HBO Go, or Netflix. The popular award winning sitcom, “Friends” had a huge fan base during its run from 1994-2004.

“The One With Friends” play will explore how the arts can help promote healing, and help de-stigmatize depression when accurately portrayed.

The play can be considered a narrative project, exploring the effective use of patient stories, media and creative arts to help with the support system. Mango went through difficult times growing up, losing his father and close friend he experienced depression.

Mango said it was a statement by Friends star Matthew Perry that prompted the play. According to Mango, Perry said he’d like Friends to be listed behind helping people as an accomplishment when he died.

“This was the quote that resonated and motivated me to pursue this play,” said Mango.

Mango said the play was unusual because it touches a serious issue of mental illness, while intertwining with a famous sitcom ‘Friends’.

The play takes place in a Santa Monica coffee shop, where a struggling actor with depression and low self esteem strikes up a conversation with a stranger. An assignment that was given to him by his therapist, turns out the stranger is an aspiring TV writer who is going through depression and happens to be writing the reunion episode for the beloved TV show Friends as a side project.

The two begin to familiarize themselves with each other and find a connection and healing through the beloved sitcom and discover the six friends of the famous sitcom that can change their lives.

Joseph Mango earned his MFA at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2014 and is the project coordinator for the Technology Communications Core for the UCLA Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health.

The audience will be given the option to participate in a short anonymous survey to complete before and after the play to help measure how the arts help promote healing and to also measure depression stigma.

“Don’t get me wrong, medication and therapy is helpful when it comes to depression. What is also helpful for recovery is the major support from family and friends; it is all part of the healing process. By the end of the play I hope the audience can understand a little bit more about depression and maybe change their view when they hear about someone dealing with depression,” said Mango.

Play will be held at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Tamkin Auditorium. Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 9 at 2 p.m. For more information visit http://hss.semel.ucla.edu/friends.

If You or Someone You Know is in Crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to everyone. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. All calls are confidential.

by Marina Andalon

marina@smdp.com

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