After her family introduced her to the world of fantasy and sci-fi novels as a young girl, Meghan Yuri Young got hooked on literature and knew she wanted to be a writer. She went on to pursue a double major in English and Psychology at the University of Toronto, and after interning at a variety of magazines, she spent her 20s travelling and freelancing. A few years ago, Yuri Young quit her steady freelance gig and decided to dive into blogging and social media. She launched her eponymous site that covers well-being, the arts, and philanthropy, and grew her social media brand, @meghanyuriyoung (which today boasts more than 17k followers). Now, the 34-year-old Torontonian is a full-time writer, content creator, and consultant by day, and the leader of mental health platform The Sad Collective by night.
Read on as we chat with Yuri Young about The Sad Collective, how to broach the topic of mental illness, and how celebrities like Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato are helping the cause.
What motivated you to start The Sad Collective, and how did it come to be?
Long story short, heartbreak. I was in the midst of ending my marriage and my good friend, Vasiliki Marapas, was also going through a rough time. We’re both writers and worked together at a company that was stifling our creativity. So we started The Sad Collective.
It started very grassroots with a social media presence, some stencils we used to graffiti the streets of Toronto with, and an urge to not only validate our feelings, but also those around us.
How did the team behind the Sad Collective come together and what is your role?
Once Vas and I came up with the name, we tapped another friend, Mo Bofill, to design the logo and come on as our general visual creative. She’s an incredible illustrator and graphic designer. Mo illustrated our crying Drake logo.
Then we expanded with a therapist, to address more of the clinical side of mental health and illness. However, she had to step aside due to work commitments. I also brought on another talented designer, Paulina Perzynska, who is one of the most resilient people I know. She lives with depression, social anxiety and a few other physical ailments, and yet is so strong with an even stronger commitment to making a difference in the mental health community.
What does the Sad Collective do?
Since this is a passion platform, we do a lot and very little at the same time (hahaha). I like to describe The Sad Collective as a platform for the people by the people. So it’s really whatever our little collective and the larger mental health community wants to make it. We try to destigmatize the conversation around mental health through our social media channels, we also share people’s stories via our blog. But more than that, we’re becoming a space that reminds everyone that we’re not alone, we’re all in this together. But after our big One Brave Night event on April 6 in partnership with CAMH, I’m looking to create more offline experiences to bring the community together even more.
How did this partnership come about?
Well, it was a few years in the making. I’ve personally been involved in iterations of One Brave Night for the last four years. The Sad Collective has been raising funds for the annual charity event for three. Then last year, CAMH approached us to be the face of the fundraiser. When they asked again this year, I knew we had to take the opportunity to create something and not just talk about something.
This year, CAMH further themed One Brave Night with the slogan: “choose your challenge.” It embraces the idea that everyone is different, with individual experiences and preferences. With this in mind, The Sad Collective put on a day of adventures starting with a charity sweat at Myodetox Performance, followed by a midday meditation with The Quiet Company, and ending at Free Space for the evening program.
The evening was by far my biggest focus. I brought together nine amazing speakers for an open mic-style portion that focused on everything from personal stories to poetry and even a rap. Afterwards, we put on a movie, played board games and just connected with each other — which was easy after listening to such vulnerable stories.
What kind of feedback have you been getting on The Sad Collective?
We’ve had so much positive feedback from the community when it comes to The Sad Collective’s efforts. The more we do, the more people reach out either to help out, to share their own stories, or to tell us how much they relate to what they’ve heard or read. My heart is constantly warmed by the incredible impact it has had, but it’s only because people use it and make it their own. It exists not only for the mental health community, but also for the individual.
What unique spin does the Sad Collective take on the issue of mental illness?
I don’t think we have a unique spin other than the fact that we highlight other incredible, organizations, initiatives, and people than we do our own efforts. We also strive to have an inclusive and diverse existence that encompasses representation on many levels. Not only are we concerned with being relatable to people from all walks of life, but we want to address the fact that things aren’t always okay — and that’s okay — while not losing an overall positive stance on mental health and illness.
What do you hope to see change in the way our society sees and acts on mental health?
The first thing that I’d like to see, and it’s already happening, are more voices being heard and stories being told. It’s already scary experiencing something out of our control, but imagine how much scarier it is when you think you’re the only one going through it and no one else will believe you or understand.
Other than that, I hope that there’s more research conducted in the mental health realm so it becomes less and less invisible. Although by nature they will continue to be invisible ailments compared to other diseases and struggles, with more research, that could potentially change — again, all linked to increased empathy. It always starts with education.
What role do you think celebrities like Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato have played in speaking about their struggles with mental illness and addiction?
They play an incredibly important role. People need role models who are open and honest to look up to. As well as role models who aren’t afraid to say, “I’m not perfect. I too experience hard times,” whatever forms those times take. Celebrities and people of interest will make destigmatizing mental health conversations catch like wildfire.
What stories are you most passionate about telling?
I’m most passionate about stories in general. I’m flipping the question on itself! But if I had to choose specific topics, I’m currently obsessed with the idea of bettering communication, learning about myself more and discovering my voice through creative writing. A lot of it links back to mental health and simply striving to be a good human — hence, The Sad Collective and my philanthropic ventures.
What strategies would you recommend for broaching the conversation of mental illness?
The strategies I would recommend very much fall into the common sense category: first be open-minded; second, research. The more educated you are, the less you’ll leave to generalizations and misrepresentation. Education breeds empathy, which will lead to another strategy: listening. Sometimes broaching the conversation means lending an active ear. Other times it will simply be to ask more and more questions. Overall, the conversation always needs to be met with good intentions and a heightened awareness of the other person as well as the stigmas around such topics.
What is next for you and for The Sad Collective?
More offline connections. Throwing One Brave Night solidified how much of an impact we really want to make. Currently planning an art show as well as some monthly programming that will provide people with concrete skills to help them through darker moments.