How The Royal Ottawa's supporters find hope after tragedy

Colleen O’Connell-Campbell shares her family’s personal story to destigmatize mental illness and rally support for increased access to care
Colleen O'Connell-Campbell
Colleen O’Connell-Campbell is a founding member of the philanthropic group Women for Mental Health and has helped raise more than $1.5 million for The Royal’s Campaign for Mental Health. Photo by Lindsey Gibeau.
Editor's Note

In February 2004, Colleen O’Connell-Campbell was at work preparing for a client meeting when she received a call from her husband. He immediately told her not to panic, and that what he was about to say had nothing to do with their two boys, but that she needed to get to the hospital immediately – for her brother.

O’Connell-Campbell recounts how, on that painful day, she arrived at the hospital to see her brother laying on a bed in a room behind a curtain. Tragically, at the age of 24, he had died by suicide.

In retrospect, O’Connell-Campbell says there may have been some signs that her brother was unhappy or struggling, but it wasn’t part of their family conversations because people didn’t talk much about mental health at the time.

“Danny was never treated at The Royal because he was never really properly diagnosed,” O’Connell-Campbell says. “We never even realized that anything was going on with him until just a few months before he was gone.”

O’Connell-Campbell, lead of O’Connell-Campbell Wealth Management at RBC Dominion Securities, is vice-chair of the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health board of directors. She’s been on the board for four years, but has been involved in giving back to The Royal since 2011. As one of the  founding members of the philanthropic group Women for Mental Health, she helped raise more than $1.5 million for The Royal’s Campaign for Mental Health.

O’Connell-Campbell dedicates her time supporting The Royal through volunteer work on the Foundation board as well as involvement in the Foundation’s signature events, advocacy and fundraising. She believes strongly in the vital work being done, particularly at The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR).

“We’re so fortunate to have The Royal, with its world-renowned researchers and mental health experts, right here in our nation’s capital.”

“We’re so fortunate to have The Royal, with its world-renowned researchers and mental health experts, right here in our nation’s capital,” she says. “The organization is actively working on research projects that will have a direct impact on patients’ lives and will provide a positive and transformational impact for the healthcare system.”

O’Connell-Campbell believes that we all have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and to recognize when we need to ask for help. “It can potentially be challenging for some people to get the services that they need, but at the same time that’s exactly the reason why we need to continue fundraising for mental health and access to care,” O’Connell-Campbell says. “If you have access to your company’s employee assistance program (EAP), use that; or get on the phone and call the crisis line or your GP. And don’t ever – as hard as it may be – ignore an issue. Never give up.”

O’Connell-Campbell continues to work on destigmatizing mental illness in the community through open discussions about her own personal tragedy.

“Even today the stigma is still really strong, and there’s still a lot of work to do,” says O’Connell-Campbell. “I’m grateful that things have moved forward, but I think it’s really important to not forget that there’s still so much work that we have left to do.”

On that cold day in February, 16 years ago, Colleen stood with her family in the emergency room, devastated for the loss of her brother. A comment made by her sister rings true to her today.

“Life is not that bad,” O’Connell-Campbell had said to her sister. Her sister turned to her and said, “To him it was.”

Read the full report from The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health below: