From Tragedy to Hope: Family Inspires New Mental Health Fund at JDRF

(L: Evan, R: Brendan)

In May 2024, Evan Hunt laced up his running shoes and took the first of approximately 50,000 steps in the BMO Vancouver Marathon. He thought of his brother Brendan, who had undergone the pre-run ritual countless times. For Evan, the marathon was a labour of love for Brendan, who tragically passed away from type 1 diabetes (T1D) complications in 2022 at age 28.  

In 2023, Brendan’s parents, Steve and Trish Hunt, contacted JDRF on a mission to turn their unfathomable loss into a means of helping others. They learned about JDRF’s Mental Health Strategy for T1D and wanted to support it however possible. They made a gift – the first from many donors across Canada – to help establish the Brendan Hunt Diabetes and Mental Health Fund at JDRF, which will launch once $1M is raised. The Fund will support JDRF’s Mental Health Strategy for T1D and other mental health research, such as four interventional research studies matched by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).  

Trish Hunt explains why JDRF’s Mental Health Strategy for T1D is so important:  

“As was our experience with our son Brendan, we know that T1D can be the root cause of subsequent serious mental health challenges and the evolving diabetes distress that can have a profound impact on quality of life and longevity. Having spent an entire career in health care, we need to empower existing systems of care, providers, and teams to increase understanding of the mental health impacts of diabetes and provide evidence-based tools and support for individuals with T1D and their loved ones. This must become a holistic approach, as once youth age out of pediatric care, they still need consistency, coordination, and support in their care. JDRF supports major advancements in this crucial area.”  

Trish and Steve believe Brendan could have benefited from mental health support that better understood what it means to live with a chronic disease like T1D. 

Brendan had been a relatively carefree kid until his T1D diagnosis at age 14. As a youth with severe needle phobia, Brendan’s diagnosis sent him into a state of fear, panic, and shame – made worse by preexisting mental health challenges. Depression took over his life.  

Though his diabetes care teams provided good, specific care, it was not holistic. His endocrinologist was concerned with his blood glucose. His psychotherapist worked with him on his needle phobia. There was no one to bridge the gap between his physical and mental health, and peer support options were limited. A few years later, alcohol became a coping mechanism.  

Brendan voluntarily committed more than three years of his young adult life living in residential treatment centres to improve his mental health. Though they were some of the most difficult years of his life, Brendan became a leader in the Vancouver facilities he resided in. He started running clubs and made many friends, showing great kindness and compassion to his fellow residents. He worked hard and ultimately overcame his addictions in treatment centres and demonstrated tremendous resiliency.  

Over the next several years, he worked different jobs, was always quick to fix a computer or car, and was equally passionate both out on a 10km run or inside playing a video game. He was upgrading his math courses and working towards an IT diploma when he tragically passed away from T1D complications early in 2022.  

“The combination of challenges Brendan dealt with, physical and mental, robbed him of the stability one needs to thrive in our conventional society,” shared Steve Hunt during Brendan’s celebration of life. “With courage, he worked around those challenges and had great success as a runner, a cyberspace warrior and community member, a friend, brother, and son. Brendan did a lot in his 28 years. It went too fast, but we are forever grateful for having him in our lives.” 

The Hunts and JDRF are rallying support from individuals, corporations, and foundations across Canada to help establish the Fund, which has reached over $650,000 towards its $1M goal. Once established, the Fund will remain a mechanism for funding any of JDRF’s mental health strategy initiatives as they arise.  

Since 2021, the Mental Health Strategy has been training mental health providers and other caregivers about diabetes (over 1,000 registered to date), is funding community initiatives across Canada that address the psychosocial aspects of the disease and supports scalable research interventions.  

JDRF looks forward to celebrating the fund’s donors once $1M is raised to launch the Brendan Hunt Diabetes and Mental Health Fund at JDRF.  

Most recently, Evan Hunt raised nearly $16,000 from various donors for the Fund through his marathon run in Brendan’s honour.  

“JDRF is deeply committed to creating mental health resources for the millions of Canadians impacted by diabetes,” Evan shared on his crowdfunding page. “Running for 3 hours and 53 minutes around Vancouver and getting to the finish line was truly a highlight of my life. Despite the pain in the final stretch, it was so rewarding and only increased my drive to keep running and honouring Brendan’s legacy.” 

To support the Brendan Hunt Diabetes and Mental Health Fund at JDRF through a leadership gift, contact Jen Bavli, Director of Leadership Giving, at or 604-292-2777.  
If you or a loved one are experiencing diabetes distress or other mental health challenges, you may find a mental health provider near you at