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On March 20th, 2018, IDI hosted its annual International Women’s Day event. It was held in partnership and on location at the University of Toronto’s Multi-faith Centre. The theme for this year was “Workplace Mental Health: A Role for Everyone” and the speakers were a perfect fit.

The emcee for the day was Abier Elbarbary, a multi-faith Pastoral Counsellor and a Registered Psychotherapist. She spoked of the importance of honouring the self, which is something that we usually leave out of the professional environment. Ms. Elbarbary explained that traditionally the professional and the personal are kept apart but it is important to include the spiritual self in the workplace.

The keynote speaker for the day was Linda Weichel, Vice President-Initiatives for CivicAction, who began by asking, “what does a mental health supportive workplace look like?”. There were many responses from the audience, but among the most common were: flexibility, supportive of outside situations, understanding, empathy, and support, as well as approachable bosses. Ms. Weichel pointed out that if you are dealing with something, it will affect your work. However, the workplace is also an excellent area to address this and other mental health concerns because of the amount of time we spend at work.

For the GTA + Hamilton, 1.5 million people have experienced mental health issues, she explained—1 in every 2 people. This has has an effect on our economy, with 17 billion dollars lost in productivity. Women are also more likely to experience mental health or mood disorders.

CivicAction is working to develop a survey and action plan, Ms. Weichel explained. At its core, it comes down to being a good human being to each other. How does your attitude and behaviour affect others? is an example, as is calling out disrespect and bullying. There are three steps to a better mental health workplace: look after your own mental health; check out the website and take the assessment:; share what you and others do.

The Excellent in Community Service award was presented to Kendra Fisher, who was a goaltender for Team Canada. She experienced severe anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and depression which forced her to leave the national program. She shared her experiences with those attending the event and explained that it has given her the opportunity to help others through these experiences and work towards better mental health support.



“Workplace Mental Health: A Role for Everyone”

Keynote Address:

Vice President, CivicAction

Excellence in Community Service Award:



Multi-Faith Pastoral Counselor, Registered Psychotherapist

IDI GTA International Women’s Day Luncheon Steering Committee

Ayse Yegul, Outreach Director, IDI GTA
Gina Valle,
Diversity Matters
Lily Leung,
Hospitality Educator & Business Consultant
Marilyn Elphick, Chaplain, Private Nurse
Nuray Gunel, RN, Vice President, IDI GTA
Rose Buhagiar, Director, Retired, MCSCS

Do you want to create a more mentally healthy work place but not sure what step to take next? Introducing CivicAction’s MindsMatter – a free online tool that tells you how to support workplace mental health in under 3 minutes. Visit

Keynote Speaker: Linda Weichel, Vice President, Initiatives, CivicAction

Linda draws on her business and communications leadership and passion for city-building as she drives action across sectors to improve the Toronto region’s economic, social, and environmental prosperity. Linda is leading CivicAction’s MindsMatter workplace mental health program that has so far seen 700 organizations take the free online assessment that gives them actions to take to benefit the mental health of up to 1.5 million employees.  She is supporting work on CivicAction’s Escalator initiative which aims to open more doors to employment for young people facing barriers, while sustaining CivicAction’s support for a regional transportation network and the means to pay for it. 

Linda brings to her work knowledge of the financial services and real estate sectors and environmental communications with private, public, and non-profit organizations, and has successfully advanced public policy objectives over two decades, particularly at the municipal level. Linda encourages vibrant, walkable neighbourhoods as a past advisory committee member of neighbourhood walking tour phenomenon Jane’s Walk.

Excellence in Community Service Award: Kendra Fisher, Founder,

Kendra Fisher’s story:

Emcee: Abier Elbarbary, M.Ed, MPS, Multi-Faith Pastoral Counselor, Registered Psychotherapist

An Educational Psychologist and Pastoral Counselor; the first Muslim student to ever graduate from the University of Toronto’s Schools of Theological Studies, Masters Program for Pastoral Studies (2014). Her long standing role as a psychological consultant, researcher, educator and counselor began around September 2001 (aka 9/11), when the divide between the West and East was peaking with hate crimes internationally.

With over 15 years of experience in psycho-education, counseling and support groups both in North America and in the Middle East. Fostering inter-cultural harmony is her motto. Abier’s work is divided between private individual counseling and public interventions and group support work.

She also enjoys learning and teaching Quran and Islamic Tradition as a part of life since her childhood with a serious Egyptian teacher as a mother who mentors her Arabic and Quran till today.

Currently she is a Spiritual Care Provider in local hospitals and also conducts individual and group therapy sessions for clients mostly in the local GTA. Abier is also a public presenter of topics to raise Mental Health awareness among the Muslim community.