About six years ago, Vancouver business titan and philanthropist Joseph Segal had a stroke and spent 12 days in hospital. A grateful patient, he wanted to make a large gift to the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation, but he wanted his dollars to go an area that was underserved.
He went straight to the doctors and the foundation itself and asked them to identify the greatest need.
"I said, 'I'll give you a million dollars a day for my 12 days, but I want to do something that nobody else cares about," Mr. Segal recalls. "We started talking about mental health.
"There are so many people that walk the streets that have nowhere to turn, no one to talk to, that have given up on life," the nonagenarian says. "You have to provide people with hope; you have to provide people with support – not just financial; that goes without saying – support morally; understanding."
When the Joseph & Rosalie Segal Family Health Centre opens later this summer, the eight-storey facility at the Vancouver General Hospital site will provide short-term, acute care to people suffering from depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, psychotic and mood disorders, and drug and alcohol addiction.
A native of Vegreville, Alta., Mr. Segal is a Second World War veteran and Order of Canada recipient who once owned Fields Stores and Zellers and who went on to found Kingswood Capital Corp., a venture capital provider and real-estate company.
His gift of $12-million toward the facility is believed to be the largest personal donation to mental health in Canadian history.
"I believe that when you set an example, people will follow," he adds. "We've lifted the Saran Wrap off mental health and made it a topic of discussion."
Following his donation, the provincial government contributed $57-million toward the $82-million centre, with the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation raising the rest.
Mr. Segal's gift was significant in more ways than one. On the financial side of things, the donation literally helped to get the project off the ground. Angela Chapman, vice-president of philanthropy at the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation, says the province would not have moved as quickly as it did in the centre's construction had those dollars not been on the table.
Moreover, the Segal family's support of the project and willingness to attach its name to it, carried great symbolism.
"If somebody had said 'I'm going to give you $12-million, but it's going to be anonymous,' it would not have done for us and done for the cause of mental health what that did," Ms. Chapman says. "The issue has stigma. It was heartening and it was really game-changing for an individual family to say, 'I'm going to be associated with this,' to be such a champion."
Bell Canada has become a corporate leader when it comes to reducing the stigma associated with mental health with its Let's Talk campaign. And while many wealthy Canadians have made significant donations to mental-health organizations, fewer have made the kind of bold statement that the Segals did, with the size of their gift and their public association with the cause.
Karen Van Sacker, vice-president of Global Philanthropic, an advisory firm, says that naming opportunities are one way of recognizing individuals who make transformative investments. In the case of mental health, large gifts that come with naming rights reflect donors' leadership.
"It's almost like a stamp of approval," Ms. Van Sacker says. "In terms of making those big transformational gifts, it says to people: 'This organization is doing important things for our community.'
"It really says that people shouldn't be afraid of addressing the cause," she adds. "Naming and recognition really, really do help to break down those barriers. The more you can showcase philanthropy, the more mainstream it becomes."
The province of B.C. has other examples of philanthropists attaching their names to mental health.
In 2014, the Greta and Robert H.N. Ho Psychiatric and Education Centre (the HOpe Centre) opened in North Vancouver. With a 26-bed psychiatric inpatient unit, space for outpatient clinics and community mental health programs, and other programs, it came to fruition following the Ho family's lead gift of $10-million to the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation.
Just as Mr. Segal did, Mr. Ho went straight to the health-care providers at the hospital to see where funds could best be used. They told him that a new mental-health centre was desperately needed.
Given the stigma related to mental illness in general and in Asian communities in particular, the Ho donation in support of mental health was especially significant.
"Hopefully, this will snowball and make the public aware that no longer should mental illness be kept in the closet," Mr. Ho said at the time. "I hope I'm doing something positive by saying to the Asian community, at least in Vancouver, that this is something we have to face, and face openly.
"The family's motto has always been, 'You must learn how to give before you can receive,'" he added. "You give, you have a sense of happiness. There's a sense of harmony: You give, and you feel you have a sense of attachment to the recipient."
Bringing mental illness out into the open was one driver behind Ginny and Kerry Dennehy's gift of $1-million to the BC Children's Hospital Foundation for the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre in 2002. The Whistler, B.C., couple launched the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation following the death of their son, who died by suicide at age 17. (The pair later lost their daughter, Riley, at 23 following complications from pain medication she took for a separated shoulder.)
More recently, the Dennehy foundation gave $500,000 to the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation for the Kelty Dennehy Mental Health Resource Centre, which is located within the HOpe Centre and is operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association. (Besides other gifts, the couple also gave $500,000 to the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation for Kelty's Keys, an online set of tools and services to help people affected by mental illness.)
"It's really important for your children never be forgotten and to never be afraid to talk about what happened to them," Ms. Dennehy says. "We felt very strongly in talking about it and associating Kelty's name. The Kelty name is almost becoming synonymous with youth mental health in B.C.
"We wanted to talk about it," she adds. "We weren't ashamed."