Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Society

News & Events

Being Thankful for Thanksgiving and World Mental Health Day

We have had a beautiful fall in Alberta so far. I look outside to see clear blue skies, trees with leaves ranging from yellow to orange to red, and blankets of leaves covering my scorched grass. This year, I am grateful for fall. The hot weather of the summer took its toll on my lawn, and now that we have frost warnings, I can stop watering my flower pots. I am grateful for the change in seasons.

I used to view fall as the prelude to winter, with shortening days and increasing darkness. It was a time of sadness and loss because I am prone to seasonal affective disorder. I have learned strategies for SAD, and I urge anyone who experiences feelings of depression as the days shorten to meet with a counsellor—you don’t have to suffer alone.

But a few years ago—I think it was in the pre-COVID era—I was half-listening to a radio call-in show while driving to work where the host asked listeners to say which they liked better: spring or fall. I thought it was a ridiculous question. Of course, everyone prefers spring. It is the season of fresh starts and new beginnings in the cycle of life. We come out of our semi-hibernation and gradually re-embrace the outdoors.

A caller shifted my viewpoint. He said that fall was far superior to spring because we don’t really have much true spring weather. Winter hangs on until it is pushed out by summer. Is spring just an illusion in Alberta?

I also realized that I had negative attitudes about fall from having been raised in a seasonal affective disorder home. I learned via osmosis that fall was the onset of gloom. Having experienced with cognitive behavioural therapy, I now know that psychological upset can result from unhelpful thinking patterns and that these unhelpful thinking patterns can be shifted.

So, I began to look for the good and the beauty in fall. I learned to look at coloured leaves on the trees not as a harbinger of darkness but simply as nature’s colour palette in full bloom, even as the leaves detached from trees and made their way to the ground. I live beside a park that is filled with trees. I gave myself permission to not rake up leaves in my own yard constantly since it didn’t make a difference—leaves blow into my yard through the winter anyway, and there can be benefits to gardens and lawns from having extra protective cover. I freed myself from the negativity associated with falling leaves.

Alberta falls tend to be warm and sunny. My middle son was born in early November, and I remember that I wore shorts the day before he was born. Yes, we can run a bit hot when we are pregnant, but let’s celebrate that sometimes we can wear shorts in November and enjoy beautiful days.

I also began to enjoy Thanksgiving—it stopped being the season heralding darkness where we artificially force ourselves to express gratitude. And I began to be genuinely grateful.

Expressing gratitude can be forced—think of being required to write thank you notes as a child. But when it is genuine, it benefits both the recipient of gratitude and the gratitude expresser. You have probably heard me ad nauseum talk about how expressing gratitude creates positive emotions, an effective antidote to negativity which can permeate our culture, building resilience.

As we head into the Thanksgiving weekend, I would like to thank some very important organizations that allow Assist to support about 11,000 lawyers, law students and articling students, and their dependents, on a minimal budget.

Our office space and furniture are provided to us free of charge by JSS Barristers, along with basic office services. The value of donated office space alone is around $30,000 for tax purposes, but having offices, furniture and access to photocopiers and reception services—and being part of a community-- is worth much more that to us. If you see any of our friends at JSS, please let them know how meaningful this donation is to the legal community. Thank you, JSS, from Assist.

We are also extremely grateful to Frontier Tech Solutions which provides pro bono tech support to us. When I joined Assist four plus years ago, I struggled with some of the tech issues I encountered running a small not-for-profit organization. Frontier stepped forward and offered to provide pro bono support! I could have kissed the ground they walked in. They have been responsive and helpful (even when I call with stupid questions or problems that must make them roll their eyes.)

Assist has had a longstanding relationship with MNP LLP who has reviewing our financial statements for many years, also on a pro bono basis. James Melnyk and Dana Killick Arum have been generous and supportive with us, giving me and our Board wise counsel. Having credible financial statements is critical in the not-for-profit sector—we are very grateful for them.

We met Icona Inc, a digital marketing agency, who offered to help us build a new website a few years ago. I outlined what I wanted and they priced out what it would cost but there was a huge gap between my budget and the cost for an excellent product. They donated the difference back to us and continue to support us. Thank you, Dave and the Icona team!

Our other donor in kind is ToppanMerrill, commercial printers, who provide pro bono or subsidized printing services to us. They even donated excellent seats to the Grey Cup game when it was in Calgary a few years ago which became a door prize for our Walks for Wellness that year—and the luck winner was from Medicine Hat but was happy to take a drive up the highway to attend the game! Thank you.

And Assist could not function without our staff. We are small team and we have to be nimble and flexible of necessity. But Eileen and Bao-Hoa bring incredible skills and can-do attitudes.  I am grateful to them. I had a month or so when I did not have any staff mid-way through my first year as ED. I decided that it was important for me to know how all of the components of the organization worked so I could train staff, but was I ever grateful to bring Bao-Hoa and Eileen on board.

Assist has an incredible network of volunteers and generous folks who donate to support our fundraising campaigns. Assist is an independent lawyer assistance program—we are not run by the Law Society of Alberta, although they are a significant funder of our operations. We have an independent Board of Directors to whom I report and who offer guidance and wisdom. The independence of this relationship is essential to creating the climate of confidentiality lawyers need in order to be able pursue professional counselling.

Thank you volunteers and donors!

If anyone is looking for a way to put gratitude into an action—a great variation on expressing gratitude--please consider supporting our Silent Auction which kicks off on October 14th. We set a lofty goal of raising $50,000 through this online event and we have raised more than $14,000 through sponsorships, including ten Grand Ambassadors who donated $1000! It isn’t too late to join us as an Advocate, Ambassador or Grand Ambassador. And we will continue to add items to the auction website over the next week.

If you wish you could donate something to our Silent Auction but are having trouble figuring out what to donate, please call us—we have a list of things that we think would round out our auction offerings and we can even help you source that special item.

There are so many people and organizations that I am grateful for but I am starting to feel like Oscar winners who drone on too long. I will be looking for other ways to thank everyone else who makes life just a little bit better.

This year, Thanksgiving and World Mental Health Day occur together—Monday, October 10, 2022. I love the connection between mental health and gratitude. We know that mental health, or well-being, exists on a continuum from very well to very ill, and that no one is magically exempt from journeying along the continuum throughout their lives.

The theme for World Mental Health Day, a creation of the World Health Organization is to make mental health and well-being for all a global priority. This is the WHO’s vision for Mental Health Day:

We envision a world in which mental health is valued, promoted and protected; where everyone has an equal opportunity to enjoy mental health and to exercise their human rights; and where everyone can access the mental health care they need. 

What a wonderful vision. May we all work together to bring this vision into reality.

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving,