Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre returned this month to performing a live, in-person show called Ghosted, which highlights the importance of normalizing mental health care for high school and middle school audiences.
Educational Theatre switched to online shows in early 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been performing shows for elementary, middle, and high schools since 1986 with the aim of empowering students to make healthy decisions.
“We did a great job pivoting to virtual performances, and we will continue offering both, but we’ve been getting feedback from schools that they missed us live,” said Jared Randolph, Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre supervisor. “It feels really good to be back in that space.”
Randolph said Ghosted was seen online by students at 104 schools in Northern California last year, “and we’re looking to meet or exceed that for both virtual and live shows again this year.”
Fulfilling a mental health need
The show tells the story of 4 high school juniors as they navigate school, their home life, and changing friendships. It touches on depression, stress, anxiety, and anger. It also prominently features the new national suicide prevention hotline (988).
The need for mental health awareness and care for teens has exploded in the last 20 years, especially since COVID-19 exacerbated feelings of anxiety and depression. Kaiser Permanente saw a 33% increase in need for mental health care during the pandemic, and 20% more people have come in for care in 2023 than at this point last year.
“Our goal is to normalize and destigmatize mental health. It’s as important as your physical health, and it’s something we want people to prioritize, same as going to the gym or eating healthy food.” Jared Randolph
Even before the pandemic arrived, teen suicides were on the rise. From 2000 to 2020, the numbers grew by 233% for girls ages 10 to 14, and 58% for boys of the same age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Actor Gisela Feied, whose character in Ghosted talks about her anxiety disorder, said she feels educators are now more open to providing students with mental health information than before the pandemic started.
“When we were first touring this show in 2019, a lot of schools were hesitant to book us because I think they were worried the mental health aspect would be triggering for the students,” said Feied, pointing out a common misconception that talking about mental health with teens could make things worse. “When the pandemic came along, it caused such a crisis that now they really want to book our show, first virtually and now live.”
A week before the first live performance of Ghosted this school year at a Bay Area high school, a student died by suicide, said Randolph. So, in addition to having the actors talk to students and get them help, if needed after the show, a Kaiser Permanente mental health counselor was brought in to talk to the students and assure them that it is OK and normal to ask for help.
“Our theme with Ghosted is relevant, to say the least,” said Randolph.
In addition to Ghosted, Educational Theatre also offers school staff a mental health and resilience development program called RISE UP (Resilience in School Environments: Understanding and Practice). That program also is offered virtually and in-person.
“With both programs, our goal is to normalize and destigmatize mental health,” said Randolph. “It’s as important as your physical health, and it’s something we want people to prioritize, same as going to the gym or eating healthy food.”
Schools interested in having Ghosted live or virtually can visit the website to get more information.