Honorary award recipient Sharon Johnston and her husband, Governor General David Johnston, put the Royal in Royal Ottawa Mental Health Care and Research by attending its 14th Annual Inspiration Awards Gala, presented by TD at the Delta Ottawa City Centre on Friday.
The vice-regal couple was part of an illustrious group that included local hockey hero Daniel Alfredsson and community pillars Dan Greenberg and Barbara Crook, all of whom are helping to destigmatize mental illness. Legendary quarterback Henry Burris was the evening’s energetic emcee along with double-gold Olympian Carolyn Waldo.
Johnston is a member of The Royal Ottawa Foundation Women for Mental Health campaign. She has twice hosted the group at Rideau Hall and has donated partial proceeds from her novel Matrons and Madams to its cause.
She’s been “a light in a dark place, not just for me but for the many like me who are suffering,” said Rachel Scott-Mignon, who lives with bipolar disorder, before presenting the award to Johnston, one of her “biggest supporters,” in front of a sold-out crowd of nearly 600 people.
The glamorous evening, once again chaired by designer Jason Bellaire of StyleHaus Interiors, saw the business community come together for cocktails and dinner, coupled with inspiring mental health stories and an exhilarating show from the hip-hop group Culture Shock. The $310-a-ticket event raised $429,000 for mental health.
While accepting her award, Johnston touched on both the progress made on mental health education and one of the major areas in need of improvement.
“When it comes to the big picture of mental health awareness and stigma, the overall good news is that our military public, public service and non-public workplaces are honestly addressing the reality: that good people can get sick,” said Johnston, who earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in rehabilitation sciences while raising five daughters. “The stigma relating to depression or anxiety is on the wane.
“However, there is still an elephant in the room, which is the fear that continues to exist toward those with serious mental illness. This association, which views people with mental illness as potentially violent or dangerous, has at least two negative effects: One, it makes people afraid to get to know someone with mental illness, or admit that it exists in their family and, two, it makes those with mental illness less likely to come forward to get help because they don’t want to be labelled as potentially dangerous.
“Yet, mental illness rarely leads to violence. Very few of those with serious mental illness pose any threat to others.”
Her excellency made a plea for all Canadians to get to know someone with serious mental illness as part of the 150th anniversary of our country. They have “families, hobbies, talents, quirks and passions, just like you and me,” said Johnston. “Let us all get to know each other, and that harmful and counterproductive fear will go away.”
Alfredsson, a long-time community ambassador for The Royal, did a great job presenting the Leader for Mental Health Award to his friends, Greenberg and Crook. The couple have been advocates of mental health causes and have donated their time, resources and money to help patients receive better care.
Greenberg, president of Ferguslea Properties, which owns Accora Village, wore beneath his suit jacket a purple Do It For Daron hockey jersey. The Sens fan also donned a scarf featuring Alfredsson’s retired number, 11.
“Every team wishes to have franchise players, pillars to build their team around, that they know are going to show up every night,” said Alfredsson. “Barbara and Dan are franchise players for this community.”
One of the most touching moments was when Greenberg dedicated the award to Andrée Steel, former chief executive of The Royal Ottawa Foundation. She passed away last year from cancer.
Auctioned off were exotic trips and concert tickets, a touch football game with Burris (including post-game group dinner at Luxe Bistro) and six tickets to the Juno Cup, including a pre-game meal with Alfredsson and a post-game locker room visit with Alfredsson and Jim Cuddy as tour guides.
This year’s other recipients were youth Joy Xu, researcher Dr. Kelly Babchishin, Jenn Coward and Peggy Hickman and Student Alliance for Mental Health.