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Dennehys' fundraising culminates with new Hope Centre for mental health

Whistler family's loss sparks the need for change in how patients are treated


For Ginny and Kerry Dennehy, they say that when you lose someone — especially a child — the fear is that the child will be forgotten.

For the Dennehys, who lost their son Kelty to suicide in 2001, the remembrance of their son — and the frustration at the lack of help they felt they could deliver for him— has fuelled an ongoing effort to put mental-health issues on the map.

"Kelty's name is at the forefront of mental health. His name will never be forgotten," said Kerry. "His picture is etched in glass in the Kelty resource centres, of which there will be three shortly. There's one at Children's Hospital, the second one is the new Hope building, and the third one to be established — and we've already donated the money toward it — will be at the Joe and Rosalie Segal (Health) Family Centre, which will be another brand-new building totally dedicated to mental health on the grounds of VGH."

Both Kerry and Ginny have devoted years to raising funds and working to create several mental health care centres. They worked to raise more than $7 million for the Kelty Dennehy Mental Health Resource Centre in the $85 million Hope Centre — much of the fundraising took place in Whistler, where the Dennehys lived when Kelty suffered depression before taking his own life.

The shiny glass and concrete centre is what Kerry calls a beacon of hope for anyone suffering mental health issues, particularly in the Sea to Sky corridor.

"That's a frustrating thing when people say, 'I don't know where to get help, I don't know where to go, and now we have this,'" said Ginny. " One of the things we've always felt very strongly about is to be giving back to our community and to be putting it where our community can benefit. And this is a prime example and people need to know about it."

Kerry and Ginny said they've had a vision of a place where sufferers can go and get information and care.

"It's something we didn't have for Kelty," said Kerry. "He was having such a hard time in 2000 and 2001 and so now we actually have the Hope Centre established. This would have been a prime example of where we would have sent Kelty 10 or 12 years ago instead of floundering around and wondering where to go and sending him to where the doctors were fixing broken ankles and things."

The Dennehys' public efforts to raise money opened the floodgates for those whose path is similar. The couple said they still get many calls from people seemingly at odds with what to do for loved ones who suffer mental illness.

"It's Kelty's name that's becoming synonymous with mental health in this province because of all the different things that are happening here," said Ginny. "Usually when there are mental-health issues, they are kind of mucked up through the whole hospital. Now they're raising money for different things that are appropriate for youth — it's really focused on providing a place for those kids who are really suffering."

One of the most profound initiatives is the Kelty Online Mental Health Therapy Program, which is of key use to people in outlying areas, said Ginny.

"A lot of times when people are suffering from mental illnesses, they just can't even imagine going out of the house," she said. "That's just too much for them. Now what we've done is develop this program and if you're with Vancouver Coastal Health you have the opportunity to work directly with a registered psychiatrist. It isn't readily available yet... but it's a revolutionary way of how we can deliver healthcare solutions."

She and Kerry are encouraged that their work with the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation has allowed them to branch out into an area where even more people can access help. As well, the online component allows those seeking help to be anonymous, which removes the stigma so often associated with mental-health issues, added Kerry.

"One of the important things, once we've got it up and running, is we want to do work with the different health authorities to work with patients throughout B.C.," he said.

"It saves the cost in the medical system — and it's a different way of thinking about it."

The online program can connect users to professional staff, which will make a huge difference for those who are reluctant — or unable — to seek help through the usual channels.

"Never before was there anything dedicated to mental health" said Kerry. "Now there's three (centres) so the philanthropy, the interest in mental health is increasing."

Both Kerry and Ginny said they are proud of what they've helped accomplish — and that by tackling funding and resources for mental-health issues, it is contributing to making the issue mainstream.

"The more you talk about it, the more people are open about it because it just decreases the stigma," said Kerry. "The more conversations you have, the ignorance vanishes. People want to talk about it."