The race to end the stigma

The 2019 edition of the SHOPPERS LOVE. YOU. Run for Women took place on a cold and wet day in June  but that didn’t stop thousands of enthusiastic participants from breaking major records that day.

The awareness-raising event takes place in 17 cities across Canada, and Ottawa maintained its place as the top city for fundraising and participation. 3,712 participants registered this year and the combined fundraising effort netted a record-breaking $400,000 donation for women’s mental health at The Royal. Top fundraising teams included Taggart Group of Companies: The Ground Breakers ($15,255), The Mindful Movers ($14,116) and Notorious BLG ($5,845). The event has raised $1.27 million in the past seven years.

“We have awesome support in our community,” says Ann-Marie O’Brien, a social worker, and the lead for women’s mental health at The Royal. “People have a really high commitment to the awareness raising event. It’s a demonstration of peoples’ will and support for women’s mental heath.”

O’Brien is grateful to Shoppers Drug Mart both for their financial support and for helping change the conversation around mental health.

“You can’t underestimate the power of having Shoppers provide a platform for that,” says O’Brien. “It’s just so empowering and validating leading up to the run.”

She describes hearing an announcement promoting the event in support of women’s mental health over the loudspeakers at her local Shoppers store.

“It normalizes mental health — makes it part of the health care landscape. Mental illness is not a secret that is shameful and not spoken about. It’s part of overall health — rightfully so — and Shoppers really is celebrating this fact.”

Funds raised support women’s mental health through peer support, education and training, and research.

“We’re doing really good work specifically on the power of peer support and recovery and how women benefit from this specific service,” says O’Brien, who describes peer support as an “important and fundamental” part of the recovery process.

“There’s treatment — and treatment is essential to recovery — but recovery is about how you get your life back … It takes an enormous amount of courage to say, ‘OK, I gotta rebuild here.’ But how do you do that? Speaking to other women who have been there, who have done that, is a part of that healing process.”

Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) is one of the peer support groups offered. This evidence-based recovery model was originally developed by Dr. Mary Ellen Copeland and others with lived experience. Participants in this self-directed program develop personal recovery plans based on five key concepts: hope, personal responsibility, self-advocacy, support and education. The Royal has extended WRAP to other organizations around the city including Cornerstone Housing for Women, and there are plans to bring it to the Elizabeth Fry Society, the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre, and the Ontario Native Women’s Association.

In the meantime, O’Brien fields a lot of calls from women looking for help. She wants them to know that if they’re seeking treatment at The Royal they need a referral from their physician first, but that all women — regardless of whether they’re a client at The Royal — are welcome to participate in any of the peer-facilitated groups that are available.

For more information about the run go to