The family of an Acadia University student who took his own life in April just weeks before he was set to graduate is sharing their story as they encourage others to speak out about mental illness.

Alex McLaughlin was a varsity basketball player with a promising future and his death came as a shock to his family.

“It definitely hits a different chord as I think about the future and graduation,” says Alex’s twin sister, Julie McLaughlin. “We were supposed to do that together and I kind of had to do that without him.”

Now, Alex’s family is planning a basketball tournament as a way to honour him, and starting a conversation about mental health.

“I think the big message, and the one we’re really trying to get across, is that there’s a ton of pressure in sports,” says Alex's brother, Mark McLaughlin, who also played basketball in university.

He says life can be very overwhelming for a young athlete, as they face expectations to get good grades and also perform well on the court.

“Nobody ever checks up to see how are you dealing with all that? What thoughts are going through your head? You know, and just really get the mental checkup,” says Mark.

“I think he’d want us to show that, if someone is as happy and cheerful as Alex and can be suffering so much inside, that the person next to you could be just as upset,” says Julie.

The McLaughlin family says they want the tournament to become an annual event and all proceeds raised will be given to an organization called CAST – Communities Addressing Suicide Together.

“My number one hope is that people are aware of just how complex suicide is and that it can affect any community,” says Michael Price, the director of CAST.

Price says he would like to see more suicide prevention programs in place for amateur athletes.

“While student sport is fantastic and is a great avenue for staying safe, it also, like anything else, has risk factors,” he says.

The McLaughlin family says it wants to bring those risk factors to the forefront, and hopes the tournament will make a difference.

“I know that Alex, he always loved summer basketball tournaments, probably more than anything,” says Mark.

The Alex McLaughlin Memorial Basketball Tournament will take place at the University of King’s College in Halifax from Aug. 15 to 17. Sixteen teams will be participating in the tournament.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Suzette Belliveau