Sarah Souder Johnson: The Human Support System

Sarah Souder Johnson

Sarah Souder Johnson Colin Michael Simmons

City Pages' People Issue celebrates people making Minnesota a better place.

As tight-knit as the arts community can seem in the Twin Cities, it can be a lonely place, especially for those struggling with sobriety or depression. But the people behind Dissonance are there to remind you that you are not alone, and help is there if, and when, you need it.

Sarah Souder Johnson co-founded Dissonance with David Lewis at McNally Smith College of Music in 2012, while serving as the school’s director of counseling. It started as an effort to connect with students who were struggling with mental health issues, and to create honest conversation about concerns that are occasionally stigmatized in the artistic community. 

“Art and music and creativity in general are really universal, and they are friendly ways to talk about big issues,” says Johnson, a St. Paul psychotherapist. “People are happy to go to an event where they are going to see a singer that they like. And then to hear them talk about their own story of recovery, or their parent’s mental illness, or the abuse they suffered, or their suicidal ideation, it’s very, very meaningful. It leaves people more willing to talk about their own concerns and get the help that they need.”

What started as a once-a-year panel and live performance event for students has blossomed into a nonprofit that hosts a series of events, with Johnson serving as chair of the Board of Directors.

In recent years, the glamorized notion of the tortured or crazy artist has begun to fade, as have the stigmas attached to addiction and mental health problems.

“Most people are relieved to talk about the truth, to tell the truth about what they are going through and what they have experienced,” Johnson says. “I believe we all have an innate need to be seen and heard as we truly are. And for some people, that includes mental illness, and that includes a struggle with wellness, and that includes addiction.”

Since its formation, Dissonance has brought the arts community in the Twin Cities area closer, while fostering meaningful friendships and support systems that have only made the scene stronger.

“That is part of our goal, part of our mission—to create a healthy community, and to help people feel connected,” Johnson says. “A lot of what addiction or depression does is makes us feel alone and isolated. And being able to connect and see other relationships form and solidify and make people feel stronger together, it’s really cool. I feel honored to hear people’s stories, I feel honored to get to learn about how they grow and change. I believe people are very resilient, and we all have the capacity to change.” 

Click here to read other profiles from this year's City Pages People Issue.