Dinos football coach Blake Nill talks about the loss of U of C football player Daniel Lamola at the rally.
Riley Hill/the Gauntlet

Rally held to combat mental illness

Community members gather at McMahon Stadium to discuss pressing issue

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Crowds gathered in the parking lot of McMahon Stadium on May 31 to support the Enough Is Enough tour — a cross-Canada bike ride by Ginny and Kerry Dennehy, founders of the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation. 

The Enough Is Enough tour aims to raise awareness about mental health and remove the stigma that is often attached to it. To accomplish this, the Dennehys plan to bike over 8,000 kilometres this year.

The KPDF was created in 2001 following the suicide of Ginny and Kerry’s son, Kelty. The foundation looks to fund research and provide public education about mental health — particularly depression. Since its inception, the KPDF has raised over $5 million. 

Standing in front of a bus bearing the tour’s name, Ginny Dennehy told her son’s story and how she and her husband came to take on this cause.

“Kelty was a great boy. He lived a good life, had a loving family, was a great athlete and was a great student,” said Ginny. “He had everything going for him, but suddenly, he got hit by depression, and as a young boy, he didn’t know what to do.”

She described how her son’s mental health began to deteriorate. 

“At one point he phoned me and said ‘Mom, help me. I don’t know what to do. Please make all these terrible thoughts go away,’ ” said Ginny. “When your child calls you like that, all you want to do is take away the pain. We tried getting the doctors and the counselors involved, but eventually he decided that he could not go on any further and he took his life in our home.” 

She ended her speech with some words about what drives her and her husband.

“You do not have a choice of what happens to you in your life, but you do have a choice of how you’re going to deal with it,” said Ginny. “That’s the choice that Kerry and I have made, that we are going to continue on and we are going to make a difference for mental health.”

Over 75 people attended the rally. The crowd included friends and teammates of Daniel Lamola, a Dinos football player who recently took his own life. Dinos football head coach Blake Nill spoke to the audience, sharing the story of how he learned about Lamola’s death. 

“I was in a meeting in the film room, going over yesterday’s practice. I was commenting on Dan’s play,” said Nill. “I made mention of Dan and I turned around and he wasn’t there. It was shortly later that I found out he had taken his life.”

This led Nill to question what went wrong.

“Once I had time to look at it and grasp the situation, I just wondered how it happened. I consider myself to be a hands-on coach. I know my players very well,” said Nill. “For this to have happened really shocked us because we really didn’t see it coming at all. We had no clue that there was anything bothering Dan, we had not heard from anybody and we felt that we had a system in place to deal with that if we had heard about it.”

Nill said that the experience, while tragic, must be used as a call to strengthen support systems for people suffering from mental illness.

“Unfortunately, as time has gone on, I’ve looked and tried to determine what I can do better in the future to make sure that this does not happen again,” said Nill. “It’s unfortunate that something like this had to happen before we looked to move in a better direction, but we are not going to allow this to go by without improving our situation.”

University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon spoke at the event, describing her concerns about mental health on campus.

“We know that many of our students are in that age group from 18–24 where they are particularly vulnerable,” said Cannon. “They’re under a great deal of stress and they must be aware of all the support systems that are available to ensure that they are taken care of and that they’re successful as students.”

Some of the support systems Cannon said the U of C has developed to improve mental health on campus include improvements in the Wellness Centre and choosing the book Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness for the school’s common reading program in 2012. 

Alberta associate Minister of Wellness Dave Rodney also spoke. He encouraged the audience to be open about the topic and end the stigma often associated with mental illness.

“We have to help people realize that there is no shame [in mental illness] and the stigma simply must go,” said Rodney. “We’ve got to help people understand the signs and symptoms of mental health issues so they can start looking for help and we have to let people know that if they need help it is indeed there.”