10th Women and Wellness for Canadian Mental Health Association of BC

Pic #1: Women & Wellness Committee: Gail Williams, Linda Foster, Debbie Borg, Allison Joe, Kim Findlay, Liz White (Chair), Julia Kaisla, Lucette Wesley, Amanda Drage, and Pamela Mills (absent). - Photo Credit: Sheryl Yen
Pic #2: Amada Drage, Alison Joe, and Lucette Wesley- Photo Credit: Gail Williams
Pic #3: Amazing Speakers: Bev Gutray, Paulo Ardiles, Jennifer Kim, Dawn Chubai, and Cathey Russell.- Photo Credit: Gail Williams
Pic #4: Liz White (Steering Committee Chair) and Lucette Wesley. – Photo Credit: Sheryl Yen
Pic #5: Julia Kaisla selling up a storm with raffle tickets – Photo Credit: Sheryl Yen
Pic #6: Special Guest Emcee Dawn Chubai – Photo Credit: Sheryl Yen
Pic #7: CMHA CEO, Bev Gutray and Dr. Joti Samra – Photo Credit: Sheryl Yen
Pic #8:  Special Guest Speaker, Cathey Russell and Linda Foster – Photo Credit: Sheryl Yen

On Thursday March 21, two hundred sixty women gathered at the delightful Jewel Ballroom to celebrate an evening of inspiring story sharing and inspiration called Women Wellness hosted by the Canadian Mental Health Association.  An evening Emceed by Dawn Chubai, host on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. 

The event is aimed at dissolving stigmas around mental illness and improving overall well-being. The money raised will help CMHA deliver education and support programs for people living with mental illness, their loved ones and the public.

Helen MacDonnell, the founder of Women and Wellness® believes it is time for an “Ashamed No More” campaign to rid the world of the stigma and shame people living with mental illness endure.

“Just as the ‘Idle No More’ movement has turned the spotlight on the less than equal treatment of Canada’s First Nations,” says MacDonnell “It is time to rethink how society treats those who live with depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder or other mental health challenges.”

Now in its 10th year, the Women & Wellness® event sprang from the passionate leadership of MacDonnell whose brother died by suicide in January 2003, setting her on a mission to create change in how mental illness is understood in Canada. The first event was a “kitchen party with a purpose” in Moncton, New Brunswick to which she invited 54 guests. The goal was to create a safe place for women to talk about mental health. The idea has since caught the imagination and attention of thousands of women across the country, with events taking place in 16 communities this winter and raising over $800,000, since 2004.

“Women & Wellness® has been a gift wrapped in barbed wire,” says MacDonnell. “How could I not be inspired when thousands of women come together with one thing in common - a determination to speak, not whisper, about mental health.”

Understanding how important the mental health of women is to families, Shoppers Drug Mart is the Proud Presenting Sponsor of Women & Wellness®. As part of the Bell Let’s Talk mental health initiative, Bell Canada has joined as the national digital sponsor. Local Vancouver event sponsors include Pacific Blue Cross, Jewel Ballroom & Catering, Salmon’s Rentals, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and Therapy Vineyards& Guesthouse. The result is a truly special night designed to unite and empower women, reaching those who are affected by a range of mental health issues and concerns - whether they are experiencing these issues personally or acting as an advocate for someone who is not in a position to speak for themselves.

The evening begin with some arts and crafts activities on the table, followed by some dance performances, a wonderful buffet dinner, then into the main component, Paola Ardile’s speech.  Mr. Ardiles is a writer/researcher, facilitator, and advocate for policies and practices that promote health and equity.  She shared comical stories about her childhood of moving to Canada from Chile, where upon her parents bought dog food and thought it was spam.  She relied stories about the struggle of dealing with mental health in her own family, and in her professional arena and noting the positive progress we have all made in creating more public awareness and governmental support and infrastructure put in place for empowered lasting change.  Her message was followed up by comedian Catherine Russell, whose stories and jokes had everyone in stitches. 

Five live auction items were then auctioned off, and everyone enjoyed the delicious chocolate mini cupcake and other yummy desserts, before leaving with a generous goodie bag that contained a full L’Oreal lipstick donated by Lori Anderson and a pack of facial mask, donated by one of the event key sponsor Shopper’s Drugmart. 

Key Messages about Mental Health

·            Like breast cancer 20 years ago, women are “coming out of the closet” to talk about their mental health and there is a growing thirst among women to dissolve the stigmas around mental illness.

·            1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. 7 million Canadians will need help for mental health problems this year alone. Women are one and a half times more at risk of hospitalizations for mood disorders than men.

·            The total number of 12-19 year olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is overwhelming at 3.2 million. Major depressive episodes are twice as high in girls (12%) than boys (5%).

·            The annual economic burden of mental illness in Canada has been estimated to be a staggering $51 billion (Centre for Addition and Mental Health).

·            Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for more than 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities.

·            Women & Wellness® is both national and grassroots and is quickly becoming a national movement among women who embrace the idea to “raise a glass, lift a spirit.”

This year’s year marks the 10th anniversary of Women & Wellness, in support of CMHA.  CMHA BC is a local charity and community leader celebrating 60 years, Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) BC Division promotes the mental health of British Columbians and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing mental illness; substance use and addictive behaviour are within the scope of the organization.  CMHA BC does this through advocacy, education, community-based research and services.  CMHA BC is part of one of Canada’s oldest charity organizations, working towards a shared vision: mentally healthy people in a healthy society.  In BC, the CMHA family has 19 branches serving more than 82,000 people across 100 communities.  Learn more at


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