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Couple cycle across Canada for mental illness; son's 'guardian angel' with them

07/20/2013 01:09 EDT | Updated 09/19/2013 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - The memory of a 17-year-old "beautiful boy" is front and centre in the minds of a B.C. couple who, for the past two months, have been pedalling across Canada to bring about change in a mental health system that could not save their son.

Ginny and Kerry Dennehy's boy Kelty committed suicide in 2001 following a two-year battle with depression.

Determined to help others from having to endure that same pain, the couple created the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation that same year, which has so far raised more than $5 million to prevent depression-related suicide in young people.

Their cross-Canada bicycle tour is the couples' most recent campaign — their first nationwide — to raise both money and public awareness around mental health issues.

"We thought it was a great opportunity to take our message of awareness and fundraising abilities outside of B.C., to travel coast to coast and spread that awareness throughout each province," Kerry Dennehy told the Canadian Press in a phone interview from Quebec City.

The couple set out on Mother's Day from their home in Whistler, B.C., accompanied by a support vehicle driven by two of their nephews.

Attending rallies in towns and cities along the way in every province, the Dennehys intend to complete their 8,000 kilometre journey at Cape Spear, N.L., by the middle of August.

The Dennehys hope to raise $2 million through the ride, which they have called Enough Is Enough.

"Enough is enough," said Dennehy. "Enough is enough of suicides. Enough is enough concerning the stigma relating to mental illnesses. Enough is enough of people waiting for treatment and not getting the care they need."

So far they have passed the $700,000 mark.

Ultimately, their goal is to establish a mental health resource centre in every major hospital in the country, which Dennehy describes as an automatic one-stop shop for mental illness.

With a price tag of around $500,000 each, the couple has already succeeded in opening two such centres in B.C. and has set money aside for a third.

"Basically, what we're trying to do is change society's attitudes," said Dennehy.

"Society itself has to look at these diseases differently and treat them just as cancer or diabetes, as just another illness."

Some of the most moving experiences on the road have been interacting with other people who have come forward to share their own stories of loss, he added.

Depression is the second leading cause of death for Canadian youth and the third highest in the industrialized world, according to Statistics Canada.

Though more difficult to address if left untreated, research suggests some form of intervention or help can make a difference in an estimated 80 per cent of cases.

By cycling across the country at their age, the Dennehys said they also want to show Canadians the importance of fitness, that physical health impacts mental health.

Dennehy and his wife are 64 and 60, respectively.

"We have a real duty, we feel, to complete this journey," said Dennehy. "We have our beautiful kids on our shoulders as guardian angels and we always look to that."

The couple suffered a double tragedy when in 2009 their daughter, Riley, died in Thailand at the age of 23 after an accidental overdose of pain medication from a shoulder injury.

"I think what spurs us onwards is to not have our kids having died in vain, and to try to give something back as we move forward."

A community rally for the Dennehy's Enough Is Enough tour is scheduled in Halifax at the Brewery Square Courtyard for July 30.

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