Transforming Obstacles into Strength: Meet our Scholarship Winner Gabriella!

Gabriella has made her mental health challenges into one of her greatest strengths, but it didn’t start that way.

Struggling with anxiety for as long as she can remember, Gabriella says, “I never knew any different. I thought everyone’s brain just worked that way.” As she got older, the anxiety evolved into recurring panic attacks and began affecting her schoolwork. Still, her anxiety also motivated her to work harder, and although her anxiety caused her to have challenges in school, she asserts, “It was also one of the biggest factors that led me to where I am now.”

With the support of OtsukaLundbeck Alliance, the Stigma-Free Society provided a post-secondary school scholarship to Gabriella to put towards earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration at Simon Fraser University. She feels that her competitive spirit and perfectionism allow her to have success in such a difficult program, but it’s these same traits that made her reluctant to seek help for so long.

Like many people in our society, Gabriella didn’t want to admit that her mental distress was an issue and that it severely impacted her life. She told herself that she ought to simply, “Suck it up,” and get by on her own.  A shift in thinking came after she made many positive lifestyle changes from diet modifications to exercise regimens, and while this helped to some degree her mind simply would not shut off from relentless anxiety and worries. She stumbled across a documentary about women struggling with anxiety and depression, and eventually decided to try medication.

Gabriella often told herself, “If I’m not taking medication, I’m winning.” There is so much stigma around people who take medication for mental health, whereas people who take medication for physical illness are rarely judged so harshly. Gabriella states, “I noticed in a lot of people, they feel that taking medication for mental health is something that is a weakness instead of something that can make you feel stronger.”

Since then, she has received support from friends and family, and has had friends tell her that her decision to take care of her own mental health has inspired them to do the same. Gabriella asserts,

“Mental health is in everybody, and everybody needs to be taking care of it.”

Finding out her condition had a name felt empowering to Gabriella. She finds success in overcoming her anxiety through regular meditation and exercise, and practices positive affirmations. Like many people who struggle with perfectionism and anxiety, no matter what has been achieved, Gabriella often felt like she was never enough, or that she was not meeting her own expectations. These practices, as well as working with a doctor regularly to manage her mental health, help her feel that she is not a victim, but rather an active driver in her own wellness. Gabriella states, “I have a part-time job in Finance and I am in school full time for Business. I have a really great support system and my friends mean the world to me.”

One of the most important insights about managing her mental health is refusing to see herself as a victim. Gabriella does not view her anxiety as a negative obstacle, but as a means to push herself and become stronger. She encourages others by saying, “Use whatever strengths and weaknesses you have, that’s who you are. You can work to improve yourself, but you can’t change who you are. Use that to motivate yourself and do great things. Use it as a positive light.”


Robyn Thomas, Community Development Manager, Stigma-Free Society

Thank you to the OtsukaLundbeck Alliance between Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. and Lundbeck Canada  for their generous donations to two Stigma-Free Scholarships in 2018-19. We are very grateful.

Meet our Stigma-Free Society – Otsuka-Lundbeck Alliance Scholarship Winner!

Many students on campus are carrying around more than just heavy textbooks. Not only burdened by the pressures of fitting in, and keeping up high grades, some students are facing hidden adversity made worse by the effects of stigma.

Ruzzelle – Stigma-Free Society Scholarship Winner

With the support of Otsuka-Lundbeck Alliance, we were able to give two deserving students who have overcome societal and self-stigma a scholarship to put towards their post-secondary program of choice. One of our two scholarship winners, Ruzzelle, began having mental health issues in high school but didn’t believe that getting help from a professional was an option.

“I almost failed my first year of University”, she says, “and it wasn’t until I started to see somebody later on that I could slowly get a handle on just living.” Mental health wasn’t something Ruzzelle’s friends in high school talked about, and like many families, hers did not talk about mental illness in a constructive way. “When I told them I was depressed, they wanted to take me to Disney Land because it’s the happiest place on earth! They just wanted me to get better and they didn’t know how.” Eventually, her family offered her the financial support to see a counselor.

The counseling sessions helped Ruzzelle become aware of her self-defeating thoughts, self-stigma being among them. She spent years struggling to simply get out of bed, but for a long time, felt that it was a problem best handled alone.  Now Ruzzelle says, “I feel like the anxious thoughts are more manageable now, I think because I’ve had all this practice, time and support.”

Now that she has the support she needs, Ruzzelle is completing a Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology. “I’m entering a field where I’m going to be able to help other people go through their own journey of stigma which is amazing. I never thought I’d be able to do that.”

We asked Ruzzelle how it felt to receive a scholarship based on her experiences of overcoming stigma and she responded, “I felt very supported. I heard all this bad news in the media all the time, but hearing what one non-profit is doing for students about stigma is amazing. One of the good pieces of news that I need.”

When asked what she would say to other students suffering from the effects of societal or self-stigma, Ruzzelle would like them to know that, “You’re not alone in your journey. All it takes is one person to really listen to you and it can be life changing.”

Congratulations Ruzzelle and all the best in your Masters Program!

Thank you to Lundbeck Canada and Otsuka Canada Pharmaceuticals Inc.for making the Stigma-Free Society Scholarships possible.

Join the Stigma-Free Society Team! Recruiting a Vancouver Stigma-Free Zone Presenter!

The Stigma-Free Society is currently looking to hire an additional Stigma-Free Zone School Presenter to join our team!

The Stigma-Free Society provides education and awareness about the effects of stigma, as well as peer support for those facing personal challenges in hopes of fostering acceptance of ourselves and others. One of our primary programs is the Stigma-Free Zone School Program.

We are looking for an extraordinary individual to tell their amazing personal story of hope and resiliency in schools to small and large groups. With an initial focus on mental health, we have now expanded our mandate to include all stigmas under the Stigma-Free Zone banner ( with an emphasis on mental health, LGBTQ2+, homelessness, race, and substance use. If you have a powerful story of overcoming obstacles and dealing with stigma, be it societal stigma or self-stigma, we welcome your application.

We are seeking a school presenter with passion and positivity–someone who has lived through and overcome many challenges. If you are truly inspired to share your story with youth in schools (grades 7-12) and occasionally with adults at businesses and organizations, then please keep reading!

This position best suits someone who is VERY accepting and comfortable with themselves and their personal circumstances and is not afraid to talk about their struggles in a public forum. This someone wants to shout their story from the rooftops because they feel that their experiences will make a difference in the lives of others.

A Stigma-Free Zone Presenter must:

  • Be professional and possess experience in public speaking;
  • Be open-minded and willing to learn from different perspectives;
  • Have a positive, respectful attitude and a willingness to be open and authentic;
  • Be comfortable with public speaking and presenting to small or large audiences;
  • Be self-motivated, punctual, and able to take direction;
  • Have an engaging and impacting personal story to share;
  • Prior experience working with youth is an asset

Further Details: 

  • You will create a PowerPoint presentation with the Society’s guidance and it must be suitable for youth in grades 7-12;
  • You will be presenting between 45 to 90 minutes to classes or assemblies and various groups in the community;
  • We will train you. The training will generally take about 2-3 weeks to complete (part-time) and you will be paid $400;
  • We want to put out a very positive message and we welcome stories that are tough. We are seeking applicants who have been through a great deal to get to where they are today and we will work with you to share your story that will encourage others;
  • It is very key to know that if hired, we ask you to commit to work with us for 1 year;
  • There is not an average number of presentations promised, but enough that is rewarding and will give you the skills and practice you need to keep you inspired;
  • We expect you to be aware and educated about various marginalized communities and on what available mental health resources exist in the community; and
  • We pay you a flat rate of $100 per presentation – this fee includes all of your expenses, including gas.

*VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE – You will be contracted during the school year with summers off. This position is best suited to someone who has a part-time job and/or plenty of flexibility in their schedule. We offer a minimum of 2 weeks’ notice for each presentation, so you can plan ahead.

**You require a guaranteed means of transport to and from your presentation. Public transportation is not acceptable as it is very important you are to show up at schools 20 minutes for set-up before a presentation and many schools are not accessible by public transit.

We would really love to hear from you and have you join our amazing Stigma-Free Society Team. Please be sure to describe in your Cover Letter why you believe you have a powerful story to share.



Remember that no matter what our challenges, we can all live extraordinary lives!

We look forward to receiving your resume and cover letter at: 

Thank you 🙂

#thatwellnessthing – Join us at our Second Annual Open House!

Join Speaker, Andrea Paquette, President and Founder, Stigma-Free Society for the #thatwellnessthing

Join the Langley Education Centre to learn more about mental health and wellness at their Second Annual Open House & community resource fair!

Wednesday February 27, 2019 4:30-7 PM at Langley Education Centre

21405A 56 Avenue, Langley BC

Presentations & Information Tables

  • Mental Health & Wellness Counselling
  • Suicide Prevention
  • Violence Prevention
  • Recreation
  • Healthy Living
  • Substance Use
  • Employment
  • Settlement Services

Students 16+, adults, and school staff welcome.

No registration required.

Light refreshments and on site photo booth.

Door prizes!

Contacts: Amanda Rawle / Nicky Harder

Community Services

The BC Responsible and Problem Gambling Program

Provides free information, resources, and treatment to support informed choices and healthy behaviours with respect to gambling participation.

Encompass Support Services Society

Offers a variety of free, accessible community programs and activities for all ages with a primary focus on children, youth, and families. Programs and services include: family mediation and reunification, youth homelessness, sexual abuse counselling, after school activity programs, pre-and-postnatal support, parent-child drop-in groups, and parenting support groups.

Fraser Health

Several different programs of Fraser Health will be attending the event including public health nurses from the Healthy Schools program and overdose prevention, as well as mental health clinicians from START.

Fraser Valley Youth Society

Supports LGBTQ2S+ and Allied youth in the Fraser Valley by connecting them to their peers, their communities, and by providing supportive & inclusive help where needed. FVYS operates a weekly drop-in and attends other special events and programs throughout the year offering Education and Awareness Programming.

Langley Community Services Society

Assists individuals and families to enhance their lives through the provision of information, services, and programs. Staff from the Substance Use Program and the Settlement & Employment Program will be attending.

Langley Hospice Society

Provides compassionate support to help people live with dignity and hope while coping with grief and the end of life.

The Stigma Free Society

This new and exciting initiative is dedicated to the awareness of the stigmas that exist in society, to help develop an understanding of the challenges that numerous people face, and to encourage acceptance.

The Baristas Training Program

This program of Pacific Community Resources Society is partnered with Starbucks and BladeRunners to provide support, guidance, and training for at-risk youth. Eligible youth ages 16-30 will receive life and employability workshops (5 weeks), and work experience at a Starbucks store (4 weeks).

Express to Success

Offered through Mission Community Skills Centre Society, Express to Success is a 14 week paid training program (6 weeks in class, 8 weeks work experience) for eligible youth ages 15-30.

This Way Ahead

This program of Pacific Community Resources Society offers youth ages 16 through 24 an opportunity to gain valuable skills and confidence in the customer service field through a series of supported workshops (9 weeks, part time) and a paid internship with the GAP, Old Navy, or Banana Republic (10 weeks, part time).

Let’s Talk at Glenlyon Norfolk School with EJ Weston

On January 30, Middle and Senior School Assemblies included presentations by EJ Weston, a School and Community speaker from the Stigma-Free Society on the topic of stigma with a special focus on mental health.

With a focus on resilience and hope, EJ shared their own personal experience with mental illness, overcoming trauma, and the importance of self care. The thought-provoking talk was an excellent way to reach students with important information, and provided a framework that will encourage them to work together to create an environment free of judgement and stigma.

Please view Glenlyon Norfolk School’s newsletter HERE

Thank you so much to Glenlyon Norfolk School for supporting the Stigma-Free Zone Movement.

Stigma-Free Society Scholarship Opportunity!

The Stigma-Free Society is thrilled to be partnering with the Otsuka-Lundbeck Alliance to offer two deserving youth a scholarship of $2000 to be allocated to their educational pursuits.

Two B.C. students experiencing the effects of social stigmatization, either because of mental illness, LGBTQ+, homelessness, race, or addictions issues, will be selected to receive this scholarship for their Spring 2019 term.

To be eligible for the scholarship, applicants must be B.C. residents and complete a Scholarship Application, and must have dealt with or be currently dealing with the effects of stigma in their lives.  Applicants also must be planning on attending school and be accepted at an accredited educational institution for the Spring 2019 term. Applications are due no later than December 10, 2018.

The Stigma-Free Society is committed to eradicating stigma through awareness and education, and we want to ensure that those who experience the negative impact of stigma know that they are not alone and have tangible opportunities to be supported.

For more information and to obtain an application, please contact Andrea Paquette, President, SFS:


You are Invited to the Stigma-Free Society 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM)


On behalf of Mr. Dave Richardson, Chairman and Ms. Andrea Paquette, President, of the Stigma-Free Society, you are invited to attend our charity’s 2018 Annual General Meeting.

DATE:  Monday-October 29-2018

LOCATION:  President’s East Room at the Vancouver Club

address: 915 West Hastings Street, Vancouver  V6C1C6

MAP to location:

TIME:  AGM @ 6:00pm-7:30pm doors open at 5:30pm

Members and Friends of the Stigma-Free Society are encouraged to attend this important meeting to set future direction for the Society and share our past year’s successes. Please share this information with your contacts who may be genuinely interested.  This is an open public forum.

Agenda to Include:

.         Report from the Chair (Dave Richardson)

.         Guest Speaker (Darrell Burnham, CEO, coast mental health)

.         Video Presentation

.         President’s Report (Andrea Paquette)

.         Treasurer’s Report (Alysha Rahim)

.         Board of Directors Confirmation

.         Other Business and Open Floor Discussion

PLEASE NOTE: The Society also has an additional guest speaker to be announced soon.

Cocktails and refreshments will be provided.

RSVP via e-mail by October 20-2018

Thank you so much for your support,

Kindest Regards,

Andrea & Dave & The Stigma-Free Society Team

Proud, Positive Progress: Stigma-Free at the Victoria Pride Festival


The Victoria Pride Society started as a casual picnic in Beacon Hill Park over 20 years ago, and it’s now the host of one of Canada’s largest Pride Weeks, including the annual “Big Gay Dog Walk,” the infamous “Dragball” event, and the parade. This year’s parade boasted over 100 floats and participants, starting from Pandora Avenue and leading to the culminating festival in MacDonald Park.

Robyn Thomas and I had the opportunity to attend the Victoria Pride Festival on behalf of the Stigma-Free Society. Setting up our booth at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, July 8, the park was already bustling with vendors and eager attendees, decked out in the colours of the rainbow flag.

Stigma-Free was among a wonderfully diverse and eclectic range of vendors, including health care resources, political parties, local non-profits, and some very proud puppies from the Humane Society.

We asked passers-by to contribute to a community conceptualization on “What a Stigma-Free Zone means to you,” which was met with creativity and enthusiasm by individuals of all ages eagerly brandishing rainbow markers. Some of the suggestions included self-love, readiness to learn, education, and awareness.

Towards the end of the day, I took the opportunity to speak to other vendors and festival attendees about stigma in the Queer community.

Asking about what stigmas exist and persist for the LGBTQ+ community, most people were overwhelmed. Many alluded to stigmas that exist within the community, noting that a white, cis-gendered, misogynistic narrative is often problematic.

One group spoke to the way stigmas that were once outright and offensive towards Queer folks are now hidden under the surface of conversations and interactions. They added that these hidden stigmas are often almost as debilitating as the more overt oppression and hatred they faced in the 80’s and 90’s.

A nurse at the BC Nurses Association tent also highlighted the generational impacts of stigma, praising the positive youth approach to queer identities, but adding,

“Those of us in our 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s — many of us are still in the closet, there’s still fear there.”

The nurse emphasized the importance of inter-generational learning and collaboration for stigma-reduction.

While many attendees noted progress that’s still needed to create safer, Stigma-Free Queer communities, they also expressed their gratitude for events like Pride. When I asked what would be important for Queer-friendly Stigma-Free Zones, folks asked for body positivity, accessibility for all, and active inclusion of people of colour, and non-binary and trans identities.

I also had the opportunity to talk to Jonathan Degenhardt, Men’s Wellness Programs Coordinator at AIDS Vancouver Island. AVI works closely with the Queer community, promoting sexual health and harm reduction around HIV/AIDS, with an emphasis on anti-stigma messaging. Jonathan aims to create safer spaces in his workplace by making programs as low-barrier as possible, identifying that the men who come seeking HIV/AIDS support may also be dealing with social isolation, financial hardships, and disabilities.

When I asked Jonathan about how stigma affects the Queer community, he identified that Pride festivals are often very able-bodied events — the grass festival grounds, for example, made part of Victoria Pride inaccessible for those in wheelchairs.

However, Jonathan emphasized that there is gradual progress towards more diversity and acceptance is in the LGBTQ+ community, adding “I’ve attended five Pride events [in Victoria], and tiny changes are happening — there were tons of trans flags up this year, which was a great sign, but it’s a slow process.”

“In order to offer a safer space, it takes challenging conversations, ongoing education, flexibility, and humility,” said Jonathan.

As we expand our reach as a Society into diverse and intersectional stigmas that branch out from Stigma-Free’s mental health background, the LGBTQ+ community in Victoria is one that we are incredibly proud to partner with. Stigma-Free is looking forward to more work with Queer activists of all genders, races, abilities, shapes, and sizes. We’re excited to develop the Stigma-Free Zone movement to serve the diversity of the Victoria community.

Author, Katie Clarke, Community Outreach Assistant, Stigma-Free Society

Lost and Found(ry) — Helping Youth Find Wellbeing in Victoria, B.C.

Overcoming stigma can seem like an insurmountable obstacle for youth in need of mental health support. Especially when the supports they turn to are overburdened — and they aren’t necessarily the services they need.

The mental health network can be a treasure trove of resources, but it’s the interconnected nature of these multi-disciplinary supports that makes them valuable. That’s the innovation at the centre of Foundry, a youth health hub that has recently opened its doors in downtown Victoria.

The beautiful, multi-floor youth space on Douglas street now houses a range of community health teams, including Island Health’s Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI) team, the Victoria Youth Clinic, Child and Youth Mental Health (MCFD), and NEED2 Suicide Prevention. I spoke with Justine Thompson of NEED2 about the culture of the space and its service to the Victoria community.

As a Foundry employee led me through the dynamic, well-lit space, Justine emphasized the interconnectivity of the organization. While Foundry has a clinical lead, at the centre of their programming is a Navigator. Youth coming in for drop-in support connect with a Navigator who can help them assess what kind of support they need and make a concrete plan for accessing these services — whether it be a counsellor, a general practitioner or anything else. Youth can immediately access a network that is welcoming and transparent, making appropriate follow-up appointments and possibly even meeting the counsellor or doctor they’ll be seeing ahead of time.

Justine, Executive Director for NEED2 Suicide Prevention Education and Support, emphasized the way the mental health system can be daunting for youth, noting that Foundry’s Navigator approach helped reduce the time that young people spend in the dark, waiting for unfamiliar and uncertain support.

My own experience with Foundry walk-in counselling reinforced the effectiveness of this supportive model. After being welcomed into the sunny, brightly coloured space, a couple days after my initial visit with Justine, I waited a brief 45 minutes before meeting with a counsellor. The support was informative and engaging, and provided useful anxiety strategies and connections to resources, as well as a follow-up appointment with the same counsellor. As a newcomer in Victoria, I’ve struggled with walk-in clinics and long wait times, and arriving at Foundry to be received in this way was a pleasant relief.

I felt respected, supported and at ease accessing services, and Justine highlighted this as a priority at Foundry.

Creating a supportive space for young people also depends on the way youth are talked to and talked about, she added. At Foundry, it’s incredibly important that adults in supportive roles present themselves genuinely and discuss youth in a respectful and open manner, whether or not the youth are in the room.  Justine also sees the importance of employee interactions following the model of youth interactions when it comes to awareness, acceptance and inclusiveness at Foundry.

This value for genuine, accepting interactions is one of the reasons Justine is supportive of Stigma-Free spaces.

Reducing stigma is central to NEED2’s mandate, which aims to break the silence around youth suicide. NEED2 runs school outreach programs and an online chat service called YouthSpace, which engages approximately 105 youth and young adult volunteers in peer support and is available every night of the week from 9pm to 12am.

As a youth support space, there’s an assumption that Stigma-Free culture happens automatically, but even in diverse spaces like this, reinforcement of Stigma-Free values is invaluable, Justine explains.

Justine states, “There’s a perception that things have radically changed, but there’s always value in stigma awareness and education. We’re all human, and we still self-stigmatize. We make mistakes.”

We all need to actively participate in fostering Stigma-Free spaces.

“So, what would a Stigma-Free Space look and feel like to you?” I asked Justine. A sense of belonging, fidgets, things to hold and engage with, snacks, information, colour, warm décor, pleasant lighting, and a non-clinical feeling were just a few of the things she named. Most of these elements were exactly what made me feel so at home when I stepped through the doors at Foundry, both in a professional role and as a client.

The Foundry Hub is one of many excellent supports in Victoria for youth, and their work deconstructing stigmas and promoting mentally healthy lifestyles is an impressive addition to our community network. At Stigma-Free, we’re excited at the prospects for collaboration with the Foundry team, and the spread of Stigma-Free culture across the city.

For more about Foundry, visit

Join the Kid’s Help Phone Amanda Todd Legacy Team on May 6th

Join the Kid’s Help Phone Amanda Todd Legacy Team on May 6th

Over the past 3 years, Amanda’s Legacy has been able to raise $10,000 for the Kids Help Phone Walk.  We are dedicated to continue raising funds for Kids Help Phone in a variety of ways.  This year, please join Team Amanda and walk with us on Sunday May 6th, in Vancouver.  Or create a team and walk close to where you live.

To join #TeamAmanda and to start fundraising for Kids Help Phone with Amanda’s Legacy and Carol Todd – Log in and Register yourself to walk on Walk Day.  Then share the link with friends via social media and encourage them to donate when you walk.   You can register through this LINK and join our walking team in Vancouver or any of the walk locations.

Amanda Todd Legacy t-shirts available for walkers – email to for more information.

Every dollar raised in this walk goes toward helping kids, youth and young adults when they call, online chat or text (Manitoba) for support.

Kids Help Phone is an integral service for the youth of Canada.  With ONLINE RESOURCES,  LIVE CHAT and the 24/7 PHONE LINE –> it is important that KHP remain well funded in order to keep up with their services.  Professionally educated counselors are behind the front line services that are provided to our kids.

Link – ‘Team Amanda’ for KHP Walk 2018 – click here
Link to Kids Help Phone –