A year after cross-country tour, Dennehys still fighting mental illness stigma 

Whistler couple working with Vancouver Coastal Health to develop online therapy program

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - the good fight Kerry and Ginny Dennehy, seen here on their Enough Is Enough tour last year, continue their work to provide support for Canadians struggling with mental illness.
  • file photo
  • the good fight Kerry and Ginny Dennehy, seen here on their Enough Is Enough tour last year, continue their work to provide support for Canadians struggling with mental illness.

A year after Ginny and Kerry Dennehy biked across Canada on their Enough is Enough tour, the Whistler couple still hasn't given up the fight against the stigma attached to mental illness.

"It almost seems surreal that it was only a year ago that we did this," Ginny said. "Time really flies."

Since their 17-year-old son, Kelty, took his own life in 2001 following battles with depression, the Dennehys have dedicated their lives to improving mental health resources for youth in Canada, and founding the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre in Vancouver was the culmination of that effort.

But, as Ginny will tell you, the crusade to change people's views toward mental illness is never quite finished.

"Every time I hear about someone taking their life because of mental illness, I realize that there's still a lot of work to be done," she said. "I look at where we were in 2001 when Kelty died compared to today, and, yes, we've made strides... But when you start to look at the statistics and the number of people affected by mental health issues, we still need to belly up to the bar and fund these issues like we do (other diseases). We have moved the bar but we still need to move it a lot further."

The Dennehys have certainly done their part to move the bar in a positive direction, raising $1.7 million for mental health initiatives across the country on their three-month tour last summer, which saw them travel over 8,000 kilometres to 50 communities.

They met with hundreds of people along the way, many sharing their own experiences with mental illness. The Dennehys also discussed best practices with many of Canada's top healthcare professionals. One of the tour's goals was to determine the viability of establishing mental health resource centres, like the one at BC Children's Hospital, in each province and territory — but the Dennehys have switched their focus to a project they hope will help even more people.

"The most exciting thing we're working on right now is working with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) to develop what is called the Kelty Online Therapy Network," Ginny explained. "It's going to be an online therapy (program) for people who are, for example, waiting to get in to see somebody but they need information. It's almost like an online resource centre with way more tools."

The program is modelled after a similar initiative in Saskatchewan, called the Online Therapy Unit (www.onlinetherapyuser.ca), which provides free therapy and mental health resources developed by an Australian university. The main difference with the VCH program is that all the content will be created exclusively for the website, meaning a license isn't necessary and the content can be shared freely with all.

Vancouver General Hospital psychologist Dr. Christine Korol is helping develop the program, and explained the benefit of online therapy.

"Basically people will do an online course on depression, on anxiety, on chronic pain, for example, and then their therapist can log in and see the work they've done and give them feedback," she said. "It's that little bit of feedback that makes all the difference. The results they're getting with other online therapy (programs) similar to this are close to face-to-face therapy, so those are quite good outcomes."

Making these vital resources accessible online also means they can benefit people in isolated communities, and, as Ginny explained, it makes it easier for those suffering from mental illness to take the ever important first step towards getting help.

"Sometimes when someone is actually suffering from a mental illness, just getting the nerve to go and see somebody is a lot harder," she said.

The program is still in the developmental stages, and the Dennehys are currently finalizing a contract with VCH, but Ginny is hopeful the first modules will be ready in 2015. Initially, Ginny said the program will be available to B.C. communities served by VCH, but the plan is to eventually make the resources available worldwide. The program will be based out of the Joseph and Rosalie Segal Family Health Centre, slated to open in 2017, on Vancouver General Hospital grounds.

But the online therapy program isn't the only initiative the Dennehys are currently working on. A second Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre is being built in the main foyer of Lions Gate Hospital's new $62-million psychiatric facility, the Hope Centre, scheduled to open in North Vancouver this year.

No matter what project they're contributing to, the Dennehys' longtime home is never far from their minds.

"We're still very committed to our community," Ginny said. "When we get involved with these projects, whether it's with Vancouver General or Lions Gate, we look back and see how they will reflect our community, and I think we'll always be like that."

Visit www.thekeltyfoundation.org for more information.

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