Women & Wellness event set for Feb. 29

Williams Lake is one of 14 communities across Canada hosting Women & Wellness this month.

Williams Lake is one of 14 communities across Canada hosting Women & Wellness events in 2012 in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Sponsors are Shoppers Drug Mart and the Cariboo Chilcotin Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Now in its ninth year, Women & Wellness is a movement created by and for women and is therefore a special night designed to unite and empower women, reaching out to 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 advocate for themselves.

“Through education and encouragement we hope to see a society in which mental health and mental illness is discussed openly and in which those requiring help feel empowered to ask for it,” says Helen MacDonnell, Women and Wellness founding chair.  “We will take the first steps toward this by harnessing the incredible power that is created by hundreds of women determined to fight the stigma associated with mental illness.”

Cariboo women will gather in Williams Lake on Feb. 29, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. to raise their glasses and their voices to break the silence about mental illness, says local CMHA representative Sheila Cohen.

“The evening will be comprised of inspirational guest speakers, entertainment, delicious hors d’oeuvres, refreshments, and fabulous conversation among guests,” Cohen says.

Details on the event and venue will be provided at the time of registration.

Women can register by contacting Sheila Cohen at 250-305-4487 or by e-mail at sheila.cohen@cmhawl.org or Bettina Schoen at 250-305-4420 or by e-mail at bettina.schoen@cmhawl.org

While there is no charge for the event donations are appreciated.

Women and Wellness is a unique and popular event that supports the important work of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), a nation-wide, charitable organization that promotes mental health and supports the recovery of people experiencing mental illness.

The money raised helps the association deliver education and support programs for people afflicted with mental illness, their loved ones and the public.

Over the past six years, the fundraiser has received more than $600,000 in donations and caught the attention of CMHA branches from coast to coast, with a total of 10 events being held in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, and British Columbia last winter.

The objective is to raise $1 million a year for the next five years.

Last year, Cohen says proceeds raised in Williams Lake helped support the CMHA Multiculturalism program in Williams Lake. This year’s donations will go towards CMHA’s local Crisis and Counselling program.

While local and regional sponsors have been very supportive, there is still tremendous opportunity for growth with new events, say organizers.

In 2011, Women & Wellness experienced a fresh burst of new energy that resulted from the support of Shoppers Drug Mart as a strategic community partner across Canada. Shoppers Drug Mart has chosen women’s health as its core cause making it the only Canadian company to dedicate its resources to improve the health of all Canadian women in body, mind and spirit, say event organizers.

Their women’s health initiative connects women to health information and resources that help ensure their health only gets stronger.

Women & Wellness got its start in January 2001 when a snowstorm meant founder MacDonnell could not get out for a break. Instead, she hit upon the idea of a January party — wine, women, and treats. She invited 20 friends, had a blast, and repeated it in 2002.

There would be no party in January 2003. Helen’s brother Duncan died by suicide that month. She realized — too late — that he suffered from bi-polar disorder, something she knew little about. Therefore, she began her journey to understand mental health disorders better. She was astounded to learn how common mental illnesses are and how stigma and lack of awareness prevents sufferers from receiving help.

In January 2004, the first Women & Wellness was held at MacDonnell’s Riverview, New Brunswick home, where 54 women gathered to laugh, cry, share stories, and the positive energy only a group of women can create.