We Need To Talk About This series hits Montreal, to discuss mental health in Canada

We Need To Talk About This is a national talk series discussing and illuminating some of the most pressing and important issues of our time.

Founded in 1966, This Magazine describes itself as “fiercely independent and proudly subversive,” which are as estimable as any qualities you’re likely to find in a publication — or a person. It is an iconic and some might say indispensable Canadian publication, a progressive and probing voice interested in having tough conversations and speaking truth to power.

We Need To Talk About This is the magazine’s inaugural national talk series, and offers an opportunity for This to have those conversations and speak those truths literally. The Montreal stop on this tour is Oct. 24 at the MMFA and will be hosted and moderated by Madi Haslam, the magazine’s Arts Editor. Aside from Haslam, the event’s speakers are Sonia Côté, Erica Ruth Kelly, and Tristan Ouimet-Savard — all of whom have first-hand work-related experience in and informed perspectives on the subject of mental health.

Though This editor Erica Lenti won’t be in town for the event, she took the time to answer few of my questions about the event, the magazine and indeed the country.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Dave Jaffer: So, what is We Need To Talk About This? What are its aims?
Erica Lenti: We Need to Talk About This is This Magazine‘s first-ever national talk tour. We’ve never hosted events outside of our hometown of Toronto, so it’s really exciting. The goal of the tour is to discuss major issues that our readers really care about — from mental health to LGBTQ issues to health care to Indigenous rights — from a personal perspective. Each event has a distinct “Big Question” that our speakers aim to answer and speak to. We’re hoping to bring diverse voices to the six communities across Canada that we’re visiting — Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver —who can speak to the different experiences and understandings of these issues.

DJ: How do you personally intersect with discussions of diversity, LGBTQ+ issues, and mental health issues?
EL: A lot of the issues we’re touching on during this tour are personally important to me. I identify as a gay woman, and that facet of my identity has informed a lot of my work at the magazine. It’s so important for us to have conversations around sexuality, identity, and politics — particularly because those conversations just aren’t happening in mainstream media. For the Montreal talk, we’re looking at what’s missing from our national conversation on mental health. I’ve been very open about my own struggles with anxiety and mental health struggles due to homophobia in my past. I think a lot of the speakers at this upcoming talk are looking at how we can better start dialogues about these issues, and where we’re failing our communities.

DJ: What does This Magazine generally aim to do these days?
EL: This has been around for a whopping 52 years, and we’ve always been about raising the profile of underreported issues, specifically around social justice. In the last few years, we’ve really focused on covering stories that aren’t being told particularly around marginalized communities.

DJ: Why does working with this magazine and delving into progressive social issues and/or contemporary cultural issues matter to you?
EL: Like I said, a lot of it is personal: I’m part of marginalized communities myself, and it’s important to me to have the issues that are important to those communities publicized and heard. But it’s also about making change. When we’re able to put stories forth that shed light on social and political problems Canadians face, we’re taking the first steps toward making a difference, toward creating the change that can improve the lives of many. It might be a bit idealistic, but it’s part of why I love my job.

DJ: Why is this speaking tour only happening now? What is particular about this time and political climate that makes you want to do this precise thing at this precise time?
EL: Part of it is logistics: We didn’t have the funding or resources to host events outside of Toronto in the past. But I also think the tour comes at a pivotal moment for Canadian, and North American politics and social issues. We’re seeing a rise of right-wing political figures who don’t care as much about the marginalized communities we cover. I’m thinking, for instance, of what’s happening in the States with trans rights, or what’s happening in Ontario over sex-ed. We need, right now, to hear from the people at stake, who are being most affected by the way the world is changing around them. We need these perspectives to better understand what’s happening in our country and abroad.

DJ: A lot of the people who are going to show up to this talk share your politics and your worldview. How much change can you expect to accomplish if you’re preaching to the converted? How do you get people who disagree with you to come around?
EL: This is always the predicament! For the people who do attend, even if they share our perspectives and opinions, I hope we’re able to teach them something new, or make them think about these issues in a different way. For the Montreal talk, we have speakers who both have years of experience working in the field of mental health, but also speakers who have lived experience of mental health issues. I think hearing from both sides is certain to get people thinking. For those who maybe aren’t your typical leftie This readers, we hope that expanding into events and hearing directly from people will help us extend our reach beyond our usual readership. I think hearing about and understanding issues of mental health is universal, not partisan. And if we can open up the channels of dialogue through these events, I think we’re making progress.

DJ: Ontario and Quebec have recently voted in governments which suggest that both provinces are moving further to the right. Do you think this means that progressivism is dying in Canada?
EL: Absolutely not. It’s often a trend that our provinces go right when our federal government goes left. And even in there provinces where we’re seeing shifts to the right, we’re seeing a lot of momentum from folks who are protesting and fighting back against the decisions they don’t approve of. There will always be progressives fighting for more in this country, and This will — I hope! — be there to cover it.

DJ: If someone was on the fence about coming to this event, what would you want me to tell them?
EL: It’s going to be an opportunity to step outside of yourself for a moment and hear the perspectives of people who care deeply about mental health. You will be bound to learn something, and I always think the opportunity to learn is good reason to give things a go. ■

The We Need To Talk About This speaking tour’s Montreal event is on Oct. 24 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Tickets can be purchased directly from This Magazine or at the door.