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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

The Courtnall Family: Healing through helping others

Growing up on Vancouver Island in the 1970s, Geoff, Russ, Bruce and Cheryl Courtnall watched as their father Archie struggled with depression. At a time when people living with mental illness didn’t talk about it, let alone ask for help, Archie lost the will to live at age 45. The death of a loving husband, father and devoted hockey coach was a wound that was hard to heal for Kathy Courtnall, who struggled to raise a young family on her own.

When Archie died by suicide, the Courtnall children were between the ages of 10 and 17. Geoff was the oldest and remembers his father’s descent into the dark tunnel of depression. “The toughest part was definitely trying to help him and not being able to,” he says. The stigma surrounding mental illness was a barrier to getting the help his father needed. Geoff says it was years before he came to terms with his father’s suicide and talking about it was difficult for the family. “We didn’t open up about it and I think it stopped us, as a family, from really healing and moving forward.”


On June 4, 2014, the Courtnall brothers accepted a CAMH Transforming Lives Award

Geoff and Russ went on to successful careers in the National Hockey League while Bruce made his mark in the world of business. Despite their success, the Courtnall children never forgot the impact of mental illness on their family and wanted to make a difference. They worked tirelessly to increase awareness and raise money for services and facilities they wished were available to their father when he became ill.

In memory of their father, the Courtnall brothers organized a celebrity golf tournament to support mental health services. The Courtnall Celebrity Classic has raised over $3 million to support mental health in the Victoria community. The Archie Courtnall Centre at Royal Jubilee Hospital is home to regional psychiatric emergency services that provide intensive treatment and crisis intervention for patients arriving in emergency at the Royal Jubilee Hospital with psychiatric disorders.

By helping others whose lives are affected by mental illness, the Courtnall family are healing themselves. The empty space created by their father’s suicide has been filled with fundraising events and helping others by sharing their own story. What drives the Courtnall family to advocate for mental health services is the belief that lives will be saved by tackling the stigma surrounding mental illness. “It’s been a great chance to help others and that was instilled in us by our father,” says Bruce. “We’re just carrying that torch.”

 

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