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How two Stanford students turned mental health struggles into art

A diverse group of students wearing all black stand on a dark theater stage
Image credit: Frank Chen
Jan 23 2020
Stanford, Students

One night in the spring of 2017, geology PhD student Zack Burton’s graduate career was derailed after a series of delusions led him to the top of a campus parking garage, where he seriously considered hurting himself.

The crisis, which sent him to the emergency department and into therapy, forced him to delay his academic and professional pursuits. It also tested his personal relationships, most notably with his girlfriend, Elisa Hofmeister, ’18. Perhaps the greatest challenge for Burton was his eventual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and having to come to terms with the shame and stigma associated with mental illness.

But on his road to recovery and acceptance, Burton would find an unlikely outlet to address his mental health struggles. With Hofmeister, he would produce The Manic Monologues, a stage play featuring a series of true stories about mental illness that, since its debut last year, has been making its way to audiences across the country, including an upcoming show in Los Angeles.

Although a dramatic departure from his day-to-day life as a Stanford doctoral student, Burton’s new role as a theater producer has helped him cope with his mental illness, combat stigma and encourage discussion about an aspect of many peoples’ lives that remains painfully taboo.

If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health assistance, call Vaden Health Center at 650-723-3785 any time, including evenings and weekends.

Zack Burton is a 2018-19 SPICE funding recipient.

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