Mental health and a neighborhood bar — this is what fighting the stigma looks like.

Brent Peters
·4 min read

You walk in to many hands trading a friendly shake. Huddling at the entrance and by the bar are people who feel more like friends than strangers, saying hellos and exchanging pleasantries.

For a rainy night in NoDa, you might as well walk into a warm hug called The Evening Muse.

The speakers pump the tunes of Pete Townshends’ ‘Let My Love Open the Door’ as seats begin to fill up. Toes tap, conversations wrap up and Evening Muse owner Joe Kuhlmann steps to the mic on an open stage.

This third Tuesday of the month, the focus is self-love and self-care.

I am at The Evening Muse, where the question on everyone’s minds is ”R U OK, Charlotte?” instead of, “What’s wrong with you?”

Seats, stools and standing room fill up to listen to artists use their talents as creative outlets against the struggles.

The Evening Muse has been hosting its “R U OK Charlotte” event monthly for about a year. Admission is $10 a ticket, with all proceeds going to Mental Health America of Central Carolinas (MHA). The effort has raised $4,000 since it started in February 2019.

This is my first time attending.

In its overall State of Mental Health in America snapshot, Mental Health America ranks North Carolina as the number 10 state regarding prevalence of mental illness (with number 1 being the lowest). North Carolina is the number 44 state (with one being the best) in access to care for both adults and youth, however. According to its website, MHA is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing needs of those facing mental illness.

In NoDa, Kuhlmann started off Feburary’s event by describing it as “community through kindness.” The cause is under the support of what he refers to as the four pillars: (1) Happiness is the new rich. (2) Inner peace is the new success. (3) Health is the new wealth. (4) Kindness is the new cool.

Take-home information is provided during R U OK Charlotte? events.
Take-home information is provided during R U OK Charlotte? events.

The mood is set from the jump. In this room, participants are surrounded by a feeling that seems to be more sought than found.

From first-time performer in Matthew Hunter to comedian Andy Perez and singer/ songwriter Dane Page, poets and advocates take the quaint stage, talking about a topic that deserves more communication. This is what fighting the stigma looks like.

Page mentions how self doubt makes already-difficult obstacles even more difficult to hurdle, saying that learning you’re worth something is the first step and to “figure out that what you’re sharing is worth sharing.” The importance of positive self-talk leads throughout the night as another unspoken theme to gravitate toward.

A continuing conversation

The stage is set for performers, and chairs await a full crowd at The Evening Muse.
The stage is set for performers, and chairs await a full crowd at The Evening Muse.

It’s clear that the conversations on how to improve these statistics have already started. That’s proof at 3227 N. Davidson St., asking “R U OK Charlotte?” Continuing the conversation, we can inspire others and ourselves to get ahead of our mental wellness. We reside in our heads all of the time. That’s where decisions are made about which actions we actually act on.

That’s also easier said than done for someone on the outside looking in. This, I know for sure. I continue to conquer obsessive compulsive disorder, an often misunderstood fight. It’s more complicated than wanting things neat and tidy. The mind becomes reliant on compulsive behaviors to give a false sense of relief, so I have to put in major effort just to combat my own negative self-talk.

Taking care of our mental health and keeping the focus there can get hard. Resources surround us as a guiding hand, such as Novant Health’s behavioral health care team comprised of therapists, psychologists and more. Additionally, it offers courses on Mental Health First Aid to learn how to assist those going through mental health problems. Atrium Health also offers behavioral health care and a course on Mental Health First Aid for the community.

The doors open up at 7 p.m. at The Evening Muse, just in time for R U OK Charlotte? to begin.
The doors open up at 7 p.m. at The Evening Muse, just in time for R U OK Charlotte? to begin.

Back at The Evening Muse, therapeutic entertainment is happening. Through many art forms, people are showing vulnerability, but the room isn’t sad, mellow or weak. The focus on that stage, in these seats, by the bar, standing in the back of the room — it is all supported with cheers, claps, laughter, snaps, hoots, hollers, friends and people who just get it.

Although the focus is different each month on the third Tuesday, the question is still the same – R U OK, Charlotte? Our answers will vary. They’ll sway back and forth at times. But we should know that we have outlets to run to in our communities here in Charlotte.

R U OK, Charlotte?

The Evening Muse

3227 N. Davidson St.

Next event: April 7