14 May 2024

IAMPOWER Summit to empower women to prioritise mental health and wellbeing

| Kellie O'Brien
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IAMPOWER Summit Kiama

Sonia Houria Rivas (left) and Deborah Devaal have joined forces to put on the inaugural IAMPOWER Summit in Kiama this month. Photo: Supplied.

Inaugural “for women by women” event IAMPOWER Summit aims to empower women to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing, something co-founder Sonia Houria Rivas knows only too well.

The one-day event at The Sebel Kiama on 25 May will take a holistic approach to mental health and wellbeing and include inspiring talks to use the power of storytelling, workshops to learn from experts, and networking to connect with like-minded individuals.

Sonia co-founded the event with Deborah Devaal, who she first met as she was coming out of the ocean, bonding over a love of the ocean and surfing at the iconic spot The Farm.

“As we started talking, we realised we had a shared passion for helping women and people in general,” she said.

With Sonia’s business Women Make Waves helping women through anxiety and understanding fear using surfing, breathwork and spiritual practices and Deborah an art therapist and wellbeing coach, a year ago they had the idea to impact more women through a collaborative event.

“We were thinking, why don’t we create an event that brings everything to women – it can bring awareness on the subjects they’re not necessarily aware of and education on what interests them,” she said.

Sonia knows what it is to seek the right mental health and wellbeing tools for individual needs.

She was left to raise her brothers after her mother passed away and, once they were grown, she took on the challenge of moving to Australia to create her own life, spending time rock climbing, surfing and other extreme sports.

That was, until she broke her back in 2017.

“Being forced to stop put me in a spot where I had no other option than to look inside at what I was avoiding and trying to figure out who I was,” she said.

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“When you are very active, like I was, it’s very common for people with injury to fall into depression.

“Between the pain and not being able to be active, the drop in the usual chemicals like dopamine and adrenaline, for me, that’s what really triggered the journey.

“It forced me to look into solutions not only for the physical pain, but also for the mental and emotional pain.”

She said it drew her to spiritual practices, breathwork and eventually back to surfing, where she found a bridge between the three.

“I thought I need to bring this to women – and that’s how I started,” she said of Women Make Waves.

“I’ve merged spiritual practices, breathwork and surf-related activities to help understand the physiology of fear and what goes on when we’re scared so that women understand themselves better and are able to build confidence.”

Sonia said with 20 per cent of tickets already sold, much of the audience so far were younger women who were also trying to understand themselves better and mothers aged 45-plus whose kids were grown and were looking at their next chapter in life.

She said for others it could be choosing a career or deciding on whether to have a family or get married.

“The reality is, the way society is geared, we are expecting a lot from women and we’re expecting women to give so much and to forget themselves in a sense,” she said.

“It’s very hard for a woman that is a mother or a partner or a professional – or all of it – to be able to juggle everything.

“There’s a lot of demand on one person for many things.

“Being half Tunisian, I know that a lot of the effort that women now produce here in Australia, and generally in the West, is often something that should be done in communities.

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“This lack of support, communication, sharing stories, I think that’s missing.

“So we want to create that – we want to bring a sense of community, be able to share information and share what’s going on, because a big part of mental health and wellbeing is having that connection.”

The event will also raise funds for The Liptember Foundation, whose research reveals the most prevalent mental health issues among Australian women in 2023 were depression (45 per cent) and anxiety and generalised anxiety disorders (44 per cent).

“It turns out that while men and women are affected equally by mental health challenges, women are more likely to experience conditions like depression and anxiety,” she said.

“With the event, we want to be able to bring an understanding of those issues, and that general wellbeing and vitality is all connected and can all be approached in different ways.”

That is evident by the strong and diverse event line-up where, along with Sonia sharing her story and expertise, speakers will include herbalist Sulin Sze on women’s hormones, physiotherapist Juliana Scopel on body awareness, celebrity GP and author Dr Cindy Pan on happiness and longevity, and more.

“It’s not just for women for themselves, but people who have others that they care for, or if professionals want to learn or upskill,” she said.

Learn more about the event, speakers and purchase tickets on the IAMPOWER website.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact:
Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support line – 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800 or kidshelpline.com.au
MensLine Australia – 1300 789 978.

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