Power of Storytelling contest provides voice for those struggling with mental health...

Power of Storytelling contest provides voice for those struggling with mental health challenges

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The Town of Stony Plain is helping to provide a voice for residents struggling with their mental health.

Last week, the winners of FCSS’s Power of Storytelling contest were announced on social media. To remain anonymous, each of the authors wrote their poems under a non de plume. “Mother-Load” by Jamie won the adult category and “Trapped” by Jasmin won the youth category.

Each year, the goal of the contest is to openly discuss mental health in a supportive environment within the community. It was started last January by Stony Plain FCSS Community Development Officer Angela Fetch as an activity to do in unison with the annual Bell Let’s Talk awareness campaign.

“I know we have a lot of writers and poets in our community,” said Fetch. “So it seemed like a really good idea to put out this poem challenge with the topics being mental health and suicide.”

The challenge itself is to submit a seven-line poem addressing the themes of the contest. So far, contestants as young as 12 and as old as 74 have submitted their work for consideration.

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One of last year’s participants recently reached out to Fetch to tell her that the project had inspired them to continue writing and that doing so has led to bigger changes in their life.

“It was really rewarding to hear that this little contest was actually a spark for them. There’s something very healing about writing. It’s a big part of exploring your own feelings. People see that sometimes when you write it down, it’s like hearing it from another person and it helps you to resolve things.”

This year’s adult winner, Jamie, has been writing poetry for a year. She said the first poem she ever wrote was actually for last year’s contest. However, she has done English translation work for other people’s poetry in the past.

The youth winner, Jasmin, is even newer to the art form. She started in October 2020 for an English assignment at school. It quickly became an emotional outlet for her which she said has turned into a lot of fun.

Jamie was inspired to re-enter the contest this year because she thinks it’s a great way to let other people in the community know that they have friends and neighbours who silently struggle with their mental health. Together, she said we can work to challenge the stigma that mental health issues are something people have to go through alone.

Jasmin on the other hand hadn’t thought about entering until her mother suggested it after seeing a post about the contest on Facebook. Initially, she had planned to submit the poem she had written for school in October. But after realizing it didn’t meet the seven-line requirement, she decided to write a new one from scratch.

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A mother of two, Jamie’s poem “Mother-Load” details the “exhaustion” of parenting and the “thoughts of death” that linger in the back of her mind. She describes being “too ashamed to ask for help” while dying on the inside trying to put on a smile.

“Sometimes life can be overwhelming,” said Jamie. “We get moments that are really difficult and unfortunately I think a lot of us feel that we have to deal with it alone and act like everything is ok when it’s really not.”

Inspired by a panic attack, “Trapped” was the result of Jasmin exploring her feelings of depression at the time and not knowing how to express herself in any other way.

“I just needed some way to get it down on paper,” said Jasmin. “So I closed my eyes and waited in the dark for a bit and then I turned on a flashlight and wrote it in a journal that I have.”

Winning this year’s contest was a pleasant surprise for Jamie. After reading the other submissions, she said she was very impressed with the talent of other poets in the community. Jasmin couldn’t wait to share the exciting news with her mother.

“I had no idea whether or not I would win but it was just a really nice surprise,” said Jamie.

“I immediately just jumped up and ran upstairs to go tell my mom,” said Jasmin.

Looking forward, Jamie said she plans to continue on with her poetry so long as there is something inspiring her to do so. She also wanted to remind those who may be going through similar situations that they don’t have to do it alone and that there is no shame in reaching out for help. Jasmin echoed those statements by saying that even though it can be scary to ask for help, it’s better to do so in the long run.

FCSS plans to continue hosting the Power of Storytelling contest every year for as long as there is renewed interest from the community.

“We want to constantly be talking about mental health so that people are aware of the services that are out there,” said Fetch. “Throughout our lifetimes, we’re all going to struggle with our mental health. We’re going to lose a parent, a job, or a relationship. That affects how we perceive the world around us and at some point, most of us will come across a time when we need that extra support.”

rhowell@postmedia.com

https://twitter.com/rudyhowellrepex

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