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The CatalystConversations on Mental Health

Our annual literary series touches on the complexities of the season.

Our tagline for The Catalyst is “Conversations on mental health.” This idea is meant as shorthand for our magazine’s purpose and a signal to our readers that the door is open to discuss mental health.

This welcome mat also speaks to the larger mission at the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) to reduce stigma. When we speak openly about challenges, illnesses, problems, and wellness, we recognize that mental health is part of our overall health. Such conversations can be a gateway to meaningful change, and the holiday season feels like an especially good time to tackle the complexities and multitudes of our mental health.

So every December, we run our Mental Health for the Holidays series to touch on the things not seen in those sparkly commercials. The goal is to normalize some of the challenges the holidays can bring and give readers a sense of hope with a touch of humour.

Each year has a subtheme. In 2023, it was Moping, Hoping, and Coping. For 2024, we’re going with Good Tidings, Bad Partings, and New Traditions. While pithy and catchy, our hope is that they also speak to a trajectory of hope and promise through real voices and real stories.

I launched the series in 2022, some months after joining the MHCC as the manager of content and strategic communications. The Catalyst is one part of my portfolio and among the most visible parts of our work at the commission, whose other initiatives include research reports, public engagement, and knowledge translation projects such as guides, tools, courses, and webinars. The Catalyst is designed to be conversational, accessible, and even chatty while covering a gamut of issues, ideas, and research within mental health. It’s a little bit of Psychology Today with a dash of the New Yorker and a good dose of neighbourly advice.

The “recipe” for this annual series is to find stories that bridge the gaps between expectations and realities. It’s people taking their lumps and making honey lemon tea out of lemons, with a side of tin box cookies. They’re narratives about people facing challenges, told without tropes or platitudes.

Finding your way

Authors usually share a personal tale tied to a theme. For example, in 2022, Rheostatics rock band member and West End Phoenix newspaper publisher Dave Bidini wrote about skating, the germination of his memoirs, nostalgia, rinks, and rituals with richly beautiful detail and a certain musicality.

I was grateful that skating had delivered this creative idea to me at the expense of having to relive the stress, pain, and anger that came with reconstructing those times. I’d tried to make art through a discovery of this nostalgia. But nostalgia often uncovers the raw truths of the past while celebrating the best parts of being young and simple and new to the world. 

Read Getting Outside to Get Into Your Head here.

Writer-instructor Moira Farr wrote with a witty self-awareness about navigating the holidays with a mood disorder and aging parents while highlighting the value of small talk.

Comfort and joy don’t just happen. You have to create them, and that requires generosity of spirit (as Scrooge famously learned) instead of going so far inward you can’t see beyond your own navel.

Read May Your Days Be Merry and Bright As Possible here.

Author Debra Yearwood grappled with her complicated relationship with Kwanzaa as she tried to unknot — like so many strands of tree lights — questions of identity and the commercialization of Christmas. Her rhythmic writing rollicks with insights as she wrestles with the emotional toll of holiday traditions and expectations.

Then comes the guilt. I ate way too much. All that butter and sugar. Ugh. I think I can hear my arteries hardening. The familiar commitments to do better follow. Tomorrow I’ll have a salad. . . but then someone invited me out for lunch. Dinner with friends is on for the next day and of course all those friends I haven’t seen in, like, forever. Drinks! Wasn’t that a special bottle of rum! Oh, and the best Côtes du Rhône I’ve had in an age. Recriminations arrive in the morning, delivered in that scathing voice I reserve just for me. Ugh, again! But the see-saw of pleasure and punishment is just getting started.

Read Sugar and Spice and Trying to Be Nice here.

This year

Writer Eleanor Sage tackles a timely subject in “Sister Acts,” where she details her efforts to bring a sibling out of a misinformation rabbit hole in order to recapture some sort of relationship while grieving the connection they once had. Watch for it in our December issue.

Putting this series together feels like a gift and an honour. It’s a delight to coach emerging and established writers, and work with an extraordinary team of authors, editors, digital and web experts, project managers, translators, and illustrators. I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoy presenting it. Happy holidays.

Author: is the Manager of Communications at the Mental Health Commission of Canada. She hopes to turn this series into a book one day.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

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