Storytelling Established Itself As Mental Health Healer: Sudhanshu Rai

Various research show that storytelling proves to be a psychological treatment for various disorders and to improve cognitive health

In the past, storytelling was part of a culture where the elders of society passed on their memories and experiences to the younger generation intending to preserve their experiences. In recent times, storytelling is more than just entertainment and education. It is currently used as part of psychological treatment for various disorders and to improve cognitive health.

Researchers have attempted to demonstrate the psychological and therapeutic benefits of storytelling on brain health. Several studies have shown that dementia patients benefit from engaging in group storytelling. Also, it improves memory and socialisation. Sudhanshu Rai, one of the renowned storytellers, film director and actor, said in an interview with BW Wellbeing that, storytelling has established itself as a mental health healer and a motivator for mental wellness over time. Edited excerpts;

First of all, tell us about your journey of being one of the country's most celebrated storytellers, alongside being an actor and filmmaker.

The beginning of my professional storytelling experience began when I started Kahanikaar Sudhanshu Rai, my storytelling channel on YouTube, about five years ago. My name became synonymous with thriller, horror, supernatural, and detective storytelling as it gained popularity among listeners.

Over a year ago, the character I created, Detective Boomrah,  was reprised on television in a web series of the same name. With Chaipatti, I transitioned from actor to filmmaker after upending India's oral storytelling industry with novel ideas and genres. The science fiction thriller Chintaa Mani was another film where I acted and is very close to my heart. I'm currently working on a sci-fi psychological thriller for Bollywood. Although I am dabbling with various mediums, I keep telling stories through different them.

How do you see storytelling from the wellbeing perspective?

Storytelling has established itself as a mental health healer and a motivator for mental wellness over time. The audience becomes active listeners and lets their minds float in uncharted ways in search of creative imaginations while widening their boundaries of thought when they focus on the story with all of their senses in play and attention unaffected.

One can eventually make their brain strong and healthy by listening intently and allowing their mind to wander into creative realms. There are several advantages to having a vivid imagination, including the recommendation of experts that people with stronger imaginations manage stress more assiduously and effectively. This is indeed a major reason why corporates as well as government organisations invite storytellers to enhance their audiences' imaginations.

How do stories appeal to our senses and emotions?

Stories have the power to uplift our mood because they transport us to an imaginary world that is not only free of our everyday problems but also fosters positive feelings that frequently affect our outlook and self-image. Moreover, stories are literature, which has historically been associated with influencing attitudes in both people and entire communities. This is why storytelling is being used to educate little children, motivate adults to do their best and of course, entertain the listeners not just with relatable everyday stories but with thrillers, horror stories with elements of time travel as well as science-fiction.

Do you think stories can prove to be a useful tool in healthcare?

As we know, stories can help in educating people of all age groups, they can definitely be used to create awareness about cleanliness, preventive measures for prevalent diseases as well as the overall impact of timely medical intervention. When woven in the form of stories, it will be more effective than any other form of communication because stories stay with people. Stories are also a great way to calm down after a hectic day or get relief from stress as it enables the listener to delve into a different world and produce happy hormones.  

As in today's era, mental health has become a global issue, what role storytelling can play here?

The trappings of the ever-evolving world and the changing dynamics of relationships have led to an increase in mental health issues among many people. Oral storytelling lets the imagination traverse through all seas of boundaries and constraints and has the power to heal them. My faith was deepened in this belief when one of my listeners came to me and spoke about how he is suffering from anxiety and listening to my stories helps him in calming down even as the symptoms subsided with time. Imagine the effect when we work dedicatedly in this direction and involve such people in not just listening to stories but creating them and helping them become storytellers only to discover the immense satisfaction this can give them. 

How storytelling has evolved through time? Also, it has been observed that live storytelling is a trend these days. Can you elaborate?

While early men conveyed their stories in the form of pictures as cave engravings, in the modern era stories are being passed down from one generation to another in the form of oral folklore, written books, ballads, puppet shows and films in recent times. However, stories have remained at the crux of all these forms. Nowadays it is also commonplace to come across the setup of a live storytelling show in the form of an oral narration of interesting stories. When preparing such a show, every part of the audience experience is carefully considered, from the lighting to create the ideal ambience to the music chosen to provide the appropriate mood for each story.

The storytelling has evolved to include more than just "presentation," as there are now genres available that were not frequently explored in the past. Horror, thriller and sci-fi storytelling shows are gaining popularity. Such a show is an experience comparable to going to a theatre because of its feel, timed jumpscares, voice modulation, and effects. And I am sure it is bound to grow in prominence in the coming years.  

Can storytelling be a business to heal emotional and psychological health?

As I said, when stories can help people suffering from anxiety to calm down, then we can only work forward in this direction and help others with psychological issues and help them heal emotionally. Not surprisingly, storytelling in its various forms has emerged as a key component of the movement for mental health and wellness. One can access digital stories through YouTube, social media, podcasts etc, while LIVE storytelling sessions have their impact as it is supported with sound effects, light effects and also actors performing at times. Such sessions help the brain to produce oxytocin, a hormone that is responsible for empathetic behaviour and helps to deepen relationships. These sessions have the power to remove the negative stigma around mental health.

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storytelling Mental Health Sudhanshu Rai


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