MIN JUNG & SANAYA RAU
Catherine Dyer, BA (hons), CFRE, is the Director of Development at Stella’s Place in Toronto. She is a respected community leader and meditation teacher who has guided hundreds of people to personal and professional transformation.
- Tell us about Stella’s Place. What makes this organization different from other mental health services in the city?
Since 2017, Stella’s Place has been providing comprehensive mental health support and services to young adults (aged 16-29 years) with complex mental health needs like anxiety, depression, and suicidality. I joined Stella’s Place because it’s different and it works. It’s different because the programs are offered by Peer Supporters and Clinicians side-by-side, and there are both treatment programs like intensive therapies and also recovery programs like fitness, yoga, and art.
2. Since the onset of the pandemic, 60% of young adults (18-24 years) self-reported a decline in their mental health. Students are feeling anxious, lonely and depressed. How has Stella’s Place adapted their services to meet the changing needs of young adults during the pandemic?
The pandemic forced us to close our doors and respond online to young people. For years we had an online peer support chat program for young people called BeanBagChat. It’s an app you can download and chat with our staff free of charge. Young people are struggling in this pandemic. They tell us that they face increasing loneliness, stress, hopelessness, fear for family, friends and themselves, sadness, grief, and paranoia. Many of them are precariously employed and are concerned about losing their jobs, their housing, and meeting their own basic needs.
It is a good time to reach out for support to Stella’s Place or other services in Toronto. For many people, like myself, therapies and even medications are needed. Whether these interventions are or aren’t needed, each of us has a responsibility for our own mental health. Just like we have a responsibility to our physical health and getting enough movement, sleep, and good food.
3. You are a meditation teacher. Meditation is not a common practice among youth for several reasons. How would you respond to a young person that thinks, “What’s the point of mindfulness? And, why should I practice it?”
One important component of mental health is mindfulness. Mindfulness, as it was popularized in healthcare settings by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is based on ancient Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Teachings and taught by Thict Nhat Hanh. One of the core components of the intensive programming at Stella’s Place is mindfulness. It is embedded in our Dialectical Behaviour Therapy programs. Mindfulness improves someone’s self-control, objectivity, distress tolerance, mental flexibility, equanimity, concentration, mental clarity, emotional intelligence, and the ability to relate to others and one’s self with kindness, acceptance, and compassion.
For many young people, they lack the access to these supportive programs. It must also be noted that for those of us who have experienced trauma, such as a single traumatic event or long-term abuse, or racism and discrimination, practicing mindfulness on its own can can freeze trauma in the body and can lead to even more dissociation and depression. Traumatic events leave powerful physiological effects, so working with the body becomes important to the healing process.
As a meditation teacher myself, through Manifesting Ideals and Sunray Meditation Society, we use songs, chants, movement, and sitting practices to assist our bodies and minds with establishing a mindful way of living. Meditation is an almost ubiquitous practice globally and there are many forms it can take. At Stella’s Place our staff are trained by the Mindfulness Centre. In my personal practice, I use meditation practices taught to me by Venerable Dhyani Ywahoo who is an Ani Yun Wiwa Elder and Vajrayana Buddhist teacher. There are many ways to return to the wisdom of our hearts and the present moment.
4. Your career has focused on helping children and young adults to live a healthy, purposeful life. What are three things every young person should have in their “mental health toolbox”?
- Joy Markers: These are easily remembered times when we were joyous. When thoughts of not being good enough or blame or shame arise, replace those thoughts with joy markers.
- A Meditation Practice: A practice that deepens our compassion for others and ourselves. It could be a practice of meditation, forest walking, prayer, ceremony, yoga, or even cognitive-behavioural skills that you learn in therapy. Something that connects you to feeling your (or others’) disturbing feelings and responds with loving-kindness.
- Generosity: Helping other people, animals, or Mother Nature brings meaning and purpose into our lives. Of course, we need to put our own oxygen masks on before helping others. Being generous can also mean giving yourself the gift of self-care, boundaries, forgiveness, and joy, and then helping others to create the same for themselves.