People & Places

“We still have a long way to go, but it’s a start” — Mental health champions honoured at The Royal

I’m only too aware of the stigma surrounding mental illness, so I have huge respect for people who publicly share their struggles.

Gordon Cudney is one of those people. He’s an Ottawa lawyer practicing in the field of mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance, and business succession planning. And he suffers from depression.

“I like to speak from the heart,” Cudney said as he took the stage on November 6 at an event celebrating people who have helped raise awareness and money in support of mental health.

“I think tonight is a good time to let you know that, unfortunately, 2019 has been a rough year for me as I have had a significant relapse this year,” Cudney told the audience at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. “For me, this has been the most acute relapse I have had,” he said.

Ottawa lawyer Gordon Cudney addresses a group at The Royal Ottawa. Photo by Simon Gardner

The event recognized 40 people as part of the Royal Ottawa Foundation 40th anniversary. The roster of award recipients included Daniel Alfredsson, Bob Chiarelli, Shirley E. Greenberg, Sharon Johnston, John Ruddy, Mark Sutcliffe, and Margaret Trudeau. Organizations and companies were also awarded including the Knights of Columbus, the Ottawa Construction Association, The Royal Canadian Legion, Bell Canada, and Shoppers Drug Mart.

Award recipients include Sharon Johnston, shown at left with her husband former Governor General David Johnston, and Shoppers Drug Mart, represented by Joanna Baker and Jenn Mulley. Photo by Simon Gardner

In thanking the recipients, Joanne Bezzubetz, CEO of the Royal, underscored the pervasive nature of mental illness in Canadian society.

“We know that behind every person who works on behalf of mental health and the victims there is a personal reason and it is very touching. I think everyone in this room may know someone … or maybe we’ve had an experience ourselves closer to why we do what we do. And I’d like to thank you for being as brave and outspoken so that we can continue to destigmitize mental health and addiction.”

Left: Joanne Bezzubetz, CEO of The Royal, addresses the audience. Right: Former politician Bob Chiarelli with broadcaster Mark Sutcliffe after the ceremony.  Photo by Simon Gardner

From Cudney’s personal experience, there is progress.

“I am a lawyer at a rather large law firm,” he said, “when I went to see my managing partner in March and said ‘I am not feeling well, something is going on’ the reaction was stunning, frankly. Not only were they empathetic and understanding, they listened. They had the infrastructure in place to deal with what I required, which was flexibility.”

Daniel Alfredsson was celebrated for his role in the “You know who I am” mental health awareness campaign, which launched in 2008. Photo by Simon Gardner

Daniel Alfredsson, former captain of the Ottawa Senators, revealed in 2008 that his sister in Sweden suffers from a mental illness. He says she is now doing quite well. His goal of fighting the stigma of mental illness continues to this day.

“A lot of people are coming up to me and sharing their stories, their struggles, their families’ struggles….And just seeing kids talking about it in school, and companies publicly supporting the fundraising — I think we have come a long way. We still have a long way to go, but it’s a start,” Alfredsson said in an interview after the ceremony.

Along with the awards, there was a bit of news about future plans for the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. Bezzubetz described an outreach plan dubbed “hospital without walls.” She told the audience they are on a mission to transform the facility.

“We are going to put ourselves on wheels and go reach out to our clients and family members to make sure they have better access to services,” she said.

According to the Royal Ottawa, approximately seven million Canadians are currently experiencing a mental health challenge or addictive disorder.