Local veterans use Shakespeare to connect with students on issues of suicide, PTSD

19th September 2016

NEW ALBANY, Ind. — The first time retired Army Col. Fred Johnson performed Shakespeare, he thought, “Getting shot was easier than this.”

At first glance, it’s an odd combination: veterans using Shakespeare to cope with PTSD and suicidal thoughts. But to Johnson and the veterans who make up Kentucky Shakespeare’s Shakespeare With Veterans, acting out emotional scenes from Shakespeare presents a balance of art and healing.

In recognition of The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Suicide Prevention Week, Shakespeare With Veterans will host an interactive session with students at noon on Thursday, Sept. 22, in the Hoosier Room.

The veterans will perform scenes from Shakespearean plays that link to a relevant issue veterans grapple with, such as PTSD’s origin in war and the cycle of revenge in The Merchant of Venice, the contemplation of suicide in Hamlet and how the military brotherhood and sisterhood helps in the recovery from PTSD and the avoidance of suicide in Henry V.

Johnson co-founded the program in February alongside Matt Wallace, the producing and artistic director of Kentucky Shakespeare. Since then, one Vietnam veteran told Johnson that Shakespeare With Veterans has been the best therapy he’s had in 40 years since returning from Vietnam.

“Our program is effective because we bring veterans together in an environment that reflects the very best components of military service: a brother and sisterhood joined in a higher purpose and the sharing of hardship,” Johnson said. “That higher purpose is telling our stories, through Shakespeare, to better connect the American people with the American military.”

Following the performance, veterans will engage the audience in a discussion of contemporary issues relevant to war, the experience of combat and national security issues. Johnson’s hope is that the experience resonates with students and helps them understand veterans and the effects of war.

“An estimated 23 U.S. veterans die every day by suicide, which is a national tragedy,” said Michael Day, director of IU Southeast’s Personal Counseling Services. “Having veterans themselves share their experiences through such a creative medium will help non-veterans to understand on a whole new level and, we hope, stimulate dialogue and support.”

Along with the Kentucky Shakespeare Veterans performance, IU Southeast’s Personal Counseling Services is offering events throughout the week to raise awareness about suicide prevention. The week culminates with the Out of the Darkness Walk on campus Saturday, Sept. 24. To register for the walk, or to donate to the AFSP, click here.

Suicide Prevention Week Schedule

Monday, Sept. 19

Depression and Suicidal Ideation Screening

11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

McCullough Plaza

Tuesday, Sept. 20

Suicide Prevention Resource Fair

11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

McCullough Plaza

Wednesday, Sept. 21

Question, Persuade, Refer: QPR, Free Training in Suicide Prevention

5:30 to 7 p.m.

University Center North, Room 127

Thursday, Sept. 22

Kentucky Shakespeare Veterans: An Interactive Look at Suicide and PTSD

Noon to 1 p.m.

Hoosier Room East

Saturday, Sept. 23

Out of the Darkness Walk

Registration opens at 9 a.m. Walk begins at 10 a.m.

McCullough Plaza

Register to walk or donate to the ASPF here.

For more information about this week’s events, contact IU Southeast’s Personal Counseling Center at micday@ius.edu or 812-941-2244.

Cover photo: Provided by Kentucky Shakespeare’s Shakespeare With Veterans. Photo by Holly Stone.

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