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Whistler couple to receive Order of B.C.

Dennehy's recognized for work to raise money and awareness for mental health

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They have raised almost $7 million for mental health; they've shone a spotlight on depression from one end of the country to the other; and they've been tireless in their efforts for the past 14 years to get real help to those who need it most.

For all this and more, Kerry and Ginny Dennehy will be given B.C.'s highest honour — the Order of British Columbia (O.B.C.)

The award, to be presented in a ceremony next month, comes as unexpected recognition for the long-time Whistler couple.

Their life paths took a tragic turn in March 2001 after their son Kelty's devastating suicide, but they have channelled their story, and Kelty's story, into a message to help others.

"When we lost Kelty to depression when he committed suicide, it just instinctively came into our heads that we should warn others," said Kerry, speaking from Spain where the couple are on holiday. "We couldn't believe it happened. We just felt it was such a dangerous disease that... we just looked at is strictly as a duty to warn others right from the start."

Sitting beside him, Ginny added that from the start they were both adamant and united in the goal.

"We want to try to help other families not go through what we've gone through... We would do whatever we can to help other people and by speaking out about the problem, getting involved with different organizations, being vocal about issues and trying to help the medical community understand from a parent's perspective what we believe is needed, and from society and community what's needed.

"We need to speak about this. We need to not be ashamed."

The Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation was founded not long after Kelty's death with a mission to provide mental health resources for young people. The roughly $7 million raised has been funnelled into various endeavours.

But their excitement over the latest projects is almost palpable over the miles from Spain to Whistler.

First there's the Kelty Mental Resource Centre in the new HOpe Centre at Lions Gate Hospital.

"This is particularly important to those residents of the Sea to Sky corridor as this is a prime location where they can get resources and will be treated," said Ginny.

The other project is outside the box, and the bricks and mortar of traditional help.

It's called the Kelty Online Mental Health Therapy Service, set to go live this fall.

It will be an innovative set of online tools and services to expand support for patients and families, including access to a psychologist.

Kerry called the online service "revolutionary" in the way that it can deliver help immediately.

"Since this program will be available online, the breadth of its coverage is huge," said Kerry. "Vancouver Coastal Health is funding the psychologists to work with the patients in our health authority. Now our job is to convince other health authorities to do the same."

And so their work — spreading the message of hope in the midst of despair — carries on.

The Dennehys will receive the Order of B.C. at a ceremony in Victoria on June 15. In the days before that, Ginny too will receive a honorary doctorate of law from the University of Fraser Valley. The doctorate is also in recognition of the work that she's done in mental health.

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