Sara Rigotti, 16, of Bowmanville manages stress differently than your average teenager.
The communications and events director for Writers Club of Durham Region (WCDR) is also a fiction writer and the youngest member on the board of directors at WCDR.
Her passion for writing developed because her dad used to read to Rigotti and her siblings before bedtime.
“I like books where it’s a subject people don’t like to talk about, but you have to,” she said. “These are things that happen, and we need to know that they happen so we can change it.”
This allowed her to write short stories based on her favourite genre of books, dark fantasy, with social justice themes, like poverty, child abuse, and depression.
“Literature is breaking down barriers on what we talk about and what we ignore and it’s really helping on different issues,” said Rigotti.
During her last year in elementary school, she joined contests and received honouree mentions for the author awards.
“When it comes to passion, I found that it doesn’t matter how you’re feeling at the moment,” she said. “Overall, you’ll feel much happier – when I’m editing, I feel frustrated I want to avoid my computer, but overall, when I don’t write, I feel guilty because I’m pulling away from what I love.”
Rigotti is one of many people who use creative writing as a tool to help with mental health. When she feels stressed, she writes even if she can’t get to her computer. She said it also makes schoolwork feel less daunting and keeps her organized.
That’s a good strategy, according to people who work in mental health.
“Health and wellness are more than kale and yoga,” said Durham College (DC) health promotions coordinator, Heather Bickle.
Bickle has been at DC for seven years and helps create a “holistic sense” of health and wellness at the Oshawa campus.
She researches trends and holds events and workshops to promote ways for students to increase and understand the importance of their well-being.
Bickle says physical, mental and social health are essential to our lives as we are social beings.
“Creative writing has always been a beautiful outlet for expression, expression is a beautiful outlet for calming, soothing, and reducing depression,” said Bickle.
She encourages students to be more aware of their feelings and thoughts, as it will help with everything from making new friends to resolving issues.
When we go through hardships, she says self-expression can help us seek connection, make us feel heard and understood.
It doesn’t have to be said verbally but it can be expressed through journaling and all forms of creative writing, Bickle explained.
Mental health doesn’t always require medication or seeing a doctor, according to Wendy Stanyon, a mental health researcher and professor at Ontario Tech University.
She said it’s important to be nice to people and use methods like gratitude journaling and speaking out to reduce mental health issues.
“Mental health is when you’re able to manage life’s challenges and basically be in a healthy position,” she says. “There are varying degrees of mental health on any daily basis. Some of us feel mentally healthy on more days than others.”
For Rigotti, her writing as therapy is paying off. She is currently working on her first novel since her first year of high school.
She hopes to go to a publisher by next year, in hopes that it will help her pay for university. Rigotti plans to take a minor in creative writing and major in computer science.
“No matter what happens to my career or anything, I intend to hold onto my writing,” she said.