Event helps to share awareness about mental illness

Turtle Mountain Vineyards in Vernon plays host to the fourth Women & Wellness event for the Canadian Mental Health Association Vernon branch

In January 2003, Helen MacDonnell’s brother Duncan died by suicide. She realized — too late — that he suffered from bi-polar disorder, something she knew little about. So she began her journey to better understand mental health disorders. She was astounded to learn how common mental illnesses are and how stigma and lack of awareness prevents sufferers from receiving help.

One year later, the first Women & Wellness event was held at Helen’s Riverview, N.B. home, where 54 women gathered to laugh, cry, share stories and the positive energy only a group of women can create.

The women there raised $1,200 for their local Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) branch and a national movement began.

Women & Wellness grew out of one family’s loss of a son and brother by suicide and their resulting awareness of how common, yet hidden mental illnesses continue to be. Now, 10 years later, the event happens in cities across Canada, raising awareness and funds for local CMHA branches.

On Thursday, the CMHA’s Vernon and District Branch is hosting its fourth Women and Wellness event at Turtle Mountain Vineyards in Vernon. Women and Wellness is a unique event where attendees listen to heartfelt stories, share community, raise a glass and lift a spirit.

“Awareness of mental illness and mental health is critical,” said Shelagh Turner, executive director of CMHA Vernon branch.  “Women and Wellness is the perfect opportunity for us to increase awareness and reduce the stigma that too often prevents people from getting the help they need.”

Women & Wellness begins at 6 p.m. with a reception that includes appetizers and refreshments. The silent auction includes beautiful baskets from many local sponsors and there is a chance to win gifts from the raffle tickets sold during the reception.

Following the reception, Grade 6 student Finnegan Pihl will share his story of “lived experience” with anxiety disorder and depression.

“He will also share his unique perspective about how mental illness has impacted his family, school, and relationships,” said Turner. “Finn challenges all of us to talk openly about mental illness so we can build toward a mentally healthy community.”

Broadcaster Betty Selin, co-host of the Morning Show on Sun FM radio, will take a humorous look at aging and the fun it brings to women. She believes that laughter is the best medicine.

The evening wraps up around 8:30 p.m. with silent auction high bidders and raffle draw winners.  The title sponsor for the event is Investors Group, along with many other event sponsors and community volunteers.

“The event is a unique fundraiser hosted by the Canadian Mental Health Association Vernon branch to dispel myths and create hope for the one in five Canadians who suffer from depression or other mental illnesses,” said Turner. “Come out for the evening where women gather to raise a glass and our voices to break the silence about mental illness.”

All proceeds from the event are kept at the Vernon branch and will be directed towards wellness programs in the community. Registration is required to attend this special evening.  Please go to www.vernon.cmha.bc.ca to find out more.