The Journey of Andrea Paquette Speaking Light into Her Dreams

Before the birth of Stigma-Free Society, Andrea Paquette experienced a rollercoaster of events caused by her bipolar disorder. She discovered her condition after experiencing psychosis in her early twenties. Despite all the mental challenges that were thrown at her, she defied all odds. Today she is the Co-Founder and President of Stigma-Free Society and an award-winning mental health advocate. During her years of fostering Stigma-Free Society, she has received 9 different honors and rewards, including her most recent award for the 2023 Faces of Wellness Finalist.

The Origins of Stigma-Free Society

Andrea’s journey of growing the charity stems from her resilience to combat mental health stigma, and inspiration to build a mental health support system for those in need. Her passion for the charity was soon cultivated after launching her personal project, This project was meant to create a platform for anyone with mental health struggles to connect and find a community. Her endurance to combat mental health further heightened after she was awarded the Courage To Come Back Award from Coast Mental Health in 2015, where she pitched her idea to bring the bipolar disorder organization from Vancouver Island to the Mainland. She had envisioned a need to extend this support system to more locations where it was less accessible.

Dave Richardson, whom she met at the Coast Mental Health Awards event, donated $25,000 to the bipolar disorder society. He saw great potential in her idea and showed interest in working with Andrea to create Stigma-Free Society. Dave and Andrea share similar interests in bringing mental health support to the mainland; together they both became the co-founders of Stigma-Free Society. While Andrea was managing the side of Stigma-Free that focused on mental health education for youths, Dave created Rural Mental Wellness. Rural Mental Wellness is a platform that Dave fabricated to destigmatize conversations around mental health for men. “Dave found a lot of healing in building Stigma-Free Society together”, says Andrea.

Making Her Dream a Reality

“Speaking light into my dreams” is Andrea’s way of describing the process of developing the charity. She spoke to many philanthropists as she was building her network base, and that led her to meet a good friend, Philip. Together they assembled the Board of Directors at Stigma-Free. Along the way, she met Robin Holden, a kind mentor who was willing to help Andrea with her dream to create the charity she had envisioned. During her first meeting with him, Robin questioned why he should help her considering that he barely knew her, but Andrea had a good feeling about him. She told him, “I think you believe in me”. That alone was enough for Robin to jump on board with Andrea on this journey.

She said “Robin was the mastermind” to all of it. He knew the CRA regulations to establish a non-profit, and most importantly mentored her through the entire process of building a charitable organization. Andrea deeply values mentorship, especially after Robin had carried her through 6 years of building the charity. With the help of Robin, the charity managed to receive their very first grant amounting to $18,000 from Telus in 2013.

The Growth of Stigma-Free Society

Andrea also talks about her dear friend, Jen, that helped her connect with school districts and teachers to promote Stigma-Free Society and the mental health toolkits. Today, Stigma-Free delivers most of its presentations and programs to the Surrey School District and the lower mainland. The charity has recently extended to the City of Medicine Hat school division too. In addition, there are growing referrals from registered psychologists and teachers promoting Stigma-Free, and a growing team of staff and presenters.

Andrea’s vision of the charity has become a reality because of her authentic conversations with mentors and colleagues. Bipolar was never a limiting factor to pursue greater things in life although her struggles were difficult to combat at times. The people and family she surrounds herself with have also supported her journey in combating bipolar, not forgetting her three dogs. Her inspiring story is heard across Canada to encourage people who battle with mental health.

By: Rachel Chiam

Rachel wrote this article as part of a journalism course and is pursuing her Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Marketing at Langara College.

Rachel’s love for a good adventure fuels her curiosity, propelling her to partake in new experiences despite the challenge. In recent years, Rachel discovered her interest in content writing following her initial foray into blogging. The art of crafting words to convey her experiences gave Rachel a profound sense of fulfillment, as she relishes in her thoughts and ideas while putting pen to paper. This interest further flourished after declaring her major in Marketing Management, recognizing the invaluable asset that content writing is within her chosen field.


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