The inspiration for the “Real Dandy” team in Ride Don’t Hide comes from the way Ken Gill lived, as much as the few months leading up to his death.
Ken Gill committed suicide on March 29 at the age of 58. Her life ended with a short and intense struggle with mental health. It also laid the groundwork for a team at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s cycling event in Oak Bay this weekend to raise awareness of the issue.
“We decided to participate this year after observing and experiencing firsthand the effects of mental health and how the continuing stigma associated with this disease can often complicate and prevent people in difficulty from getting help,” said said Marie Gill, Ken’s widow. âFor us, this hike means helping end the stigma around mental health and raising awareness for those who might silently struggle with a disease that many people don’t see. It also helps to raise awareness of the number of people in the community who have been personally or indirectly affected by this disease. We believe that the more people there are who support these types of movements, the more representation and attention will be directed towards a better understanding of mental health and how we can better support those who are struggling. “
The former Oak Bay firefighter is fondly remembered for his work as a fire prevention officer and duty chaplain as well as a guy who had coffee and listened to his peers in Greater Victoria.
A team of 29 will take to the streets, a mix of close family and friends who loved Ken. They all roll in Ken’s memory and to help end the stigma on mental health.
âThe stigma associated with mental health is already starting to disappear, but there is still a lot of work to be done,â said Marie. âThese types of events are imperative in mobilizing support and breaking down these barriers. Ken was a strong pillar of support for his family, friends and community. He dealt with others firsthand as they struggled with mental health and never allowed a stigma to affect his duties. However, when facing his own mental health battle, the associated stigma affected his ability to accept the support and care he needed. “
Ken was a constant advocate for mental health awareness and community support, especially his fellow first responders.
“We all strongly believe that Ken would have been a big supporter of the Ride Don’t Hide mission and we know that if he was here he would be riding his bike alongside his community and us in this campaign,” said Marie. .
They stumbled into looking for something specifically to raise awareness about mental health, says Manfred Schneider, who has suffered a steep learning curve since losing his 20-year-old friend to suicide.
âI didn’t know about mental health. It’s something I had no idea, âsaid Schneider, adding that wrestling was something his friend had protected them from. âIf I had known what I know today, maybe I could have done more for him. “
Ken, after all, is the one who pulled him out of depression last year.
âHe saw me go into a hole and he recognized it,â Schneider said.
Even the name Ride Don’t Hide resonates as Ken tries to hide his battle with sanity. The team hope events like this show others who are quietly struggling that there is a community that wants them to feel comfortable enough to ask for the help they need.
Going into fundraising, Schneider noticed a fairly common trend among those who talk about mental health and suicide.
âIt’s quite surprising how many people have told me that they have also lost a loved one to mental health,â he said.
According to ACSM, approximately 4,000 Canadians commit suicide each year. The most at-risk group are men in their 40s and 50s.
Being aware that someone might be having suicidal thoughts and being able to ask the question is essential, says Jocelyn deMontmorency, program manager for the Victoria office of the BC Division of ACSM.
âPeople don’t ask. It’s not because they don’t have a clue [someone is having suicidal thoughts] it’s because they don’t know how to ask, âshe said.
CMHA offers programs such as safeTALK (Suicide Alertness for Everyone), a program it frequently brings to Oak Bay.
âIn safeTALK, we’re talking about the fact that there are suicides happening,â deMontmorency said. âMore often than not, people don’t want to die by suicide, they want someone to talk to them about suicide, they want to talk about how they feel.
The half-day training provides basic steps for identifying a person with suicidal thoughts, asking them directly about the possibility of suicide, and connecting them to vital community resources and supports. Sessions are again scheduled for Oak Bay and Juan de Fuca in the fall. For more resources, visit askaboutsuicide.ca.
A real Dandy team
Ken was a witty guy, says Schneider, who happens to be one of the top fundraisers ahead of Sunday’s event. Whenever the circle of friends got together for dinner, someone was always roasting themselves.
âThe times we’ve tackled Ken, he’s always said ‘you’re a real dandy, or you’re a piece of work.’ It was one of his favorite expressions, âsays Schneider. “If you’ve outsmarted him, he’s always had some kind of comeback.”
Team Real Dandy are second among the fundraising teams at $ 10,640 so far, with Shaggy led by the Oak Bay optometrist and the Rat Traps leading the way with $ 12,090.
He was such a strong guy that no one can even believe it happenedâ¦ he meant a lot to everyone, so everyone wants to contribute, âsaid Schneider.
Hugh Turner of Oak Bay leads the individual fundraisers at $ 7,525.
Donate to a team or sign up for the ride – Sunday June 24 at Windsor Park – at ridedonthide.com/bc/ride/victoria.
For more CMHA resources, visit victoria.cmha.bc.ca.
Canadian Mental Health AssociationRide Don’t Hide