Mental health advocate Ginny Dennehy to receive honorary doctorate from UFV

In recognition of the work that she has done to spread awareness about and promote treatment of mental illness

Mental health advocate Ginny Dennehy to receive honorary doctorate from UFV.

Mental health advocate Ginny Dennehy to receive honorary doctorate from UFV.

Ginny Dennehy didn’t plan to be a crusader for mental health. Or to be heading into her golden years watching her friends attend their children’s weddings and becoming grandparents, with no prospect of doing so herself.

But after losing her two children in separate tragedies, that is the course her life has taken.

Ginny and her husband Kerry first mourned the loss of their 17-year-old son Kelty in 2001, and then lost their 23-year-old daughter Riley in 2009.

Kelty died by suicide after being overwhelmed by clinical depression and seeing no other way out of his personal darkness.

Riley passed away in Thailand after being prescribed too strong a sedative to treat a separated shoulder.

Any parent faced with the loss of all of their children would have a hard time returning from the abyss of grief, but Ginny and Kerry decided to channel their grief and focus on helping others.

In recognition of the work that she has done to spread awareness about and promote treatment of mental illness, and the important social impact that her actions have had, Ginny Dennehy will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of the Fraser Valley at its June 12 afternoon Convocation ceremony.

“When I was at the hospital wishing I could will Kelty back to life while he was on life support, and then realizing that I couldn’t, I decided then and there that I had to do something to help other families in this situation,” she recalls. “We knew nothing about fundraising or running a charitable foundation, but with the help of friends and family we were successful in launching one fairly quickly.”

Out of the tragedy of Kelty’s death came the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation, with a mandate of preventing depression-related suicide in young people. Ginny and Kerry have each taken a turn being president, with Ginny currently holding the post.

Since its inception, the Kelty Foundation has raised nearly $7 million towards care, education, and research projects in the area of youth mental health. Initiatives the foundation has supported include the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre at B.C. Children’s Hospital, a research chair focused on depression at UBC, the B.C. Crisis Line for youth suicide prevention, and mental health services at Lions Gate Hospital.

“Mental health is a prevalent social issue dominated by stigma and ignorance. Ginny Dennehy, from tragic first-hand experience, pursued change, education, facilities, and programs dedicated to youth mental health,” noted Dr. Joanne MacLean, Dean of Health Sciences at UFV, who nominated Ginny Dennehy for the honorary degree.

“Suicide was the result for Kelty, but the real problem was severe clinical depression,” says Dennehy. “And there is so much stigma surrounding that. People feel like it’s somehow their fault. But it’s a disease like diabetes or asthma, and we need to focus on treatment so that we can prevent these tragic outcomes.

“If there had been the resources we have helped to create available in 2001, it would have been easier for us to find help for our family. I get so many phone calls and emails thanking us for creating the Kelty Centre at B.C. Children’s Hospital and funding other services that help people in need.”

Dennehy stresses that there is hope for young people suffering from depression.

“Just because a child suffers from mental illness doesn’t mean they can’t lead a happy, healthy life. But they will have to have to deal with their illness to do so — you can’t ignore it. And when someone’s in that kind of pain, it is devastating for the entire family.”

Recognizing that not everybody feels comfortable walking through the doors of a hospital to seek help, the Kelty Foundation is also funding online services for young people suffering from depression. The Vancouver Coastal Health initiative will combine online learning modules with therapist-assisted cognitive behavioural therapy.

With no children’s weddings or grandkids in their future, Ginny and Kerry have had to learn how to survive and have the best kind of life they can, despite their tragic story.

Her book Choosing Hope, co-authored with Vancouver Sun journalist Shelley Fralic and published in 2013, outlines how she and Kerry coped and built a new life for themselves, one focused on helping others in memory of their children.

Also in 2013, they cycled across Canada on what they called the Enough is Enough ride, stopping in 34 communities to advocate for more resources for the treatment of mental illness.

“We had to figure out how to go on, and one of the ways we did so was by asking ourselves what Kelty and Riley would have wanted us to do,” she recalls. “We think they would be proud of what we’ve done in their memory. We’ve done the best we could with the life we ended up having.

“And we also take time to remember how unbelievably fortunate we were to have the time we did with our kids. I told them I loved them all the time and they told me the same back. That is so important. I was so glad I was able to show them I loved them. You never think you’re going to lose one child, and it was unfathomable that we should lose two.

“I think they would be happy that Kerry and I have drawn strength from each other and stayed together and weathered the storm — many couples don’t when they lose a child.”

As for earning an honorary doctorate for her advocacy work, Dennehy says that she was “absolutely shocked” but also delighted when she heard the news.

Find out more about the Kelty Patrick Dennehy foundation at

Just Posted

Chilliwack Fire Department. (Chilliwack Progress file)
Fire crews respond to house fire on border of Chilliwack and Abbotsford

Flames, dark smoke reported coming from front of house when crews arrived

Brandon Hobbs (turquoise shirt), brother of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs, gathers with other family and friends to distribute posters in Chilliwack on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Search efforts expand to Chilliwack and beyond for missing Abbotsford man

Family, friends put up posters in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Hope for missing 22-year-old Adam Hobbs

AHL president and CEO Scott Howson believes the new Abbotsford franchise is off to a strong early start. (AHL photo)
AHL president: ‘Tremendous success’ selling season ticket deposits for Abbotsford franchise

President and CEO Scott Howson optimistic about new Vancouver Canucks affiliate in Abbotsford

Stock photo by LEEROY Agency from Pixabay
Drop-in vaccination clinics slated in Abbotsford for construction workers

Among three sites in Lower Mainland holding no-appointment clinics in June and July

A CH-149 Cormorant from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron out of CFB Comox on a training exercise in Chilliwack on June 16, 2021. (William Snow photo)
VIDEO: Military search and rescue training in Chilliwack Wednesday

CH-149 Cormorant and CC-115 Buffalo from CFB Comox participated in downed aircraft rescue simulation

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

Most Read