Teaching Mental Health Awareness through Heritage Minutes Lucy Maud Montgomery depression

Teaching Mental Health Awareness through Heritage Minutes

Like most Canadians my age, I have a special infinity for Heritage Minutes. I recall one particular road trip during which my friend and I tried to recall every topic and personality covered in the initial few rounds of these historical sketches. Through the night we repeated the narrations of several dozen memorial Canadian moments. “Dr. Penfield, I can smell burnt toast!” “Please, get those children out of here; that boat is gonna blow!” ”But I need these baskets back!” “No one’s going to read a comic strip about a strong man in tights, Joe. It will never fly!”

These charming, if overly-dramatic and simplistically-told stories, found a place in the pop culture of Canada in the 1990s. We came to expect a certain style and a simple lesson in our national history. There were tales we knew well and moments that were brand new to us. It was a perfect way to bring a touch of pride and dose of education to the masses.

I have to admit, now that I have more than two channels to choose from and seldom watch television anyway, I haven’t seen the newer minutes produced over the past several years. But I happened to be on social media just as the most recent Heritage Minute was released last week – and I was shocked.

Historica Canada released the 88th one-minute video on March 8, 2018 – International Women’s Day. The subject: Lucy Maud Montgomery. The first ten seconds are filled with lovely scenery shots of Prince Edward Island and prose you might expect: Montgomery listing her favourite things, including the “colourful little island of ruby, emerald, and sapphire.” But then it changes.

“I’m possessed body and soul by this depression.”

These are words directly taken from Montgomery’s journals. And hearing them in this context struck me in a way that focused my attention like few things do these days. It will not be news to many that Montgomery struggled with depression, had her writing rejected, dealt with barriers because of her gender, and did not live a life filled with happiness and fame, despite her present-day status. But to see it highlighted in this minute was not something I expected.

“Somedays I almost give up.”

I know what it’s like to sit on the brink of giving up. I’ve gone to the funerals of friends who sat there, too. It’s not a place we used to talk about much in public, but I’ve seen that shifting over the past few years. We’re slowly recognizing that this is a much more prevalent, much more dangerous part of our health care crisis – and that we’ve been ignoring it for far too long. But slowly, things are changing. This week, we saw the news of a free, walk-in mental health clinic opening in Moncton; one of the first of its kind in New Brunswick, but a service that’s becoming more common across our country. The Atlantic Wellness Centre, offering free mental health services to youth, recently expanded. Slowly, we are creating and supporting the services we need to help those people sitting at the edge.

This Heritage Minute, choosing to focus on Montgomery’s struggles rather than her successes, is part of that change. Putting mental health font and centre of our collective narrative. To close the Minute, we hear Adrienne Clarkson narrate the lesson we’re meant to remember.

“Lucy Maud Montgomery battled depression, rejection, and sexism to become known around the world for Anne of Green Gables and 19 other novels.” She battled. She persisted. She suffered alongside her success. And we, as a nation, are honouring both.

A version of this post appeared originally in the Times & Transcript. Click here for more of Jenna Morton’s column, She Said.

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