Judy Brunton
Judy Brunton's tattoos illustrate her work fundraising for the Canadian Mental Health Association. (Photos by Alexa Battler)
Tuesday, June 4 - 2019
Alexa Battler

Judy Brunton's support for mental health is written on her body. 

Since 2015, she has raised $80,000 for one of Canada’s largest mental health organizations. Her tattoos illustrate her journey to this feat. 

Judy Brunton's heart tattoo
Judy Brunton's heart tattoo includes a semicolon and the initials of her sister and cousin. 

Brunton, administrative assistant in the Centre for Teaching and Learning, has been what she describes as an “avid fundraiser” for 13 years. In 2015, she began raising money for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), which supports mental health efforts and initiatives nation-wide. 

Her charitable work is personal. Brunton’s sister has lived with several mental illnesses since she was a teenager and her cousin died by suicide as a result of depression. 

“I had to do it because of my sister. She’s been suffering since she was first diagnosed at about 15 or 16 years old,” Brunton says. “So, I just went full force with CMHA.”

Brunton fundraises for CMHA’s York and South Simcoe chapter, which organizes an annual Mental Health in Motion Ride, Run or Walk. This year, Brunton has raised more than $19,000 and is working to hit her goal of $25,000 before the June 23 ride.  

Some of the money comes from donations, but most are from third-party fundraisers Brunton organizes. In November, she holds her biggest fundraiser of the year, a large-scale event with vendors, silent auctions and other activities. Brunton says she usually raises about $6,000 at this event, but her most recent brought in $9,000. 

Brunton got her first tattoo in 2016, a heart on her wrist coloured in the signature green of CMHA. Inside the heart is a semicolon, a nod to Project Semicolon, the non-profit organization that works to prevent suicide worldwide. She later had her sister’s initials added to one side of the heart and her cousin’s initials to the other. 

“I hate pain and it was 15 minutes of sheer torture,” Brunton says of getting the tattoo on her wrist. “But I’m glad I got it, I love it and the 15 minutes is gone forever.”

After her green heart was inked, Brunton asked the tattoo artist to volunteer for a fundraiser. The artist, who lives with mental illness herself, gave five-minute, mental-health themed tattoos at two fundraisers. Brunton said each event raised about $2,000 for CMHA. 

“The first time I did the tattoo fundraiser, I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal, I didn’t think there would be that many people,” Brunton says. “I got there and the line-up was out the door and down the street.”

Brunton got her second tattoo in 2017 at one of these fundraisers. The tattoo, located on her upper arm, includes a paper airplane with a twirling jet stream. In the stream is another semicolon.

“I picked the plane because I like flying, I like to go away places,” she says. “And my boys are big paper airplane people.”

Judy Brunton
Judy Brunton's paper airplane tattoo was inked at a fundraiser, by an artist who had personal experiences with mental illness. 

Brunton’s two sons are a major part of her fundraising. Between 2006 and 2015, Brunton raised almost $40,000 for Easter Seals Ontario, which included an annual walk-a-thon. But her eldest son likes to ride his bike, so Brunton started looking for an organization that offered a bike ride as part of a fundraiser. She eventually found CMHA.

Her oldest son, now 12, was only seven when he first finished a 20-kilometre ride with his mother. Brunton’s youngest turned seven last year, and the trio rode a five-kilometre race. 

This year, however, they are all riding the 20-kilometre race together for the first time.  

“I’m in pain a few days afterward, but it’s always worth it,” Brunton laughs.