Ride Don’t Hide takes on personal meaning for Real Dandy team

Canadian Mental Health Association fundraiser is Sunday, June 24 at Windsor Park

The inspiration for team “Real Dandy” in Ride Don’t Hide stems from how Ken Gill lived, as much as the few months that led to his death.

Ken Gill died of suicide March 29 at the age of 58. His life ended with a short and intense struggle with mental health. It also lay the groundwork for a team in 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 watching and experiencing first-hand the effects of mental health and how the ongoing stigma associated with this disease can often times complicate and prevent those struggling from getting help,” said Marie Gill, Ken’s widow. “To us, this ride means helping end the stigma towards mental health and raising awareness of those who might be struggling in silence and fighting a disease that many people don’t see. It also helps bring an awareness to just how many people in the community have been personally or indirectly affected by this disease. We feel that the more people that support these types of movements, the more representation and focus will be directed to helping better understand mental health and how we can better support those who are struggling.”

RELATED: Oak Bay community mourns loss of protector and confidant

The former Oak Bay firefighter is fondly remembered for his work as a fire prevention officer and department chaplain as well as a guy who would have a coffee and listen to his peers across Greater Victoria.

A team of 29 will cycle the streets, a mix of close family and friends who loved Ken. They are all riding in memory of Ken and to help end the stigma of mental health.

“The stigma associated with mental health is already starting to break down, however there is still a lot of work to do,” Marie said. “These types of events are imperative to harness support and break down these barriers. Ken was a strong pillar of support to his family, friends, and community. He dealt firsthand with others as they struggled with mental health and never allowed a stigma to affect his duties. However, when he was facing his own personal mental health battle, the stigma associated did affect his ability to accept the support and care he required.”

Ken was a constant advocate for mental health awareness and supports for the community – particularly his first responder colleagues.

“We all strongly believe that Ken would have been a huge supporter of the Ride Don’t Hide mission and we know that if he were here, he would be riding his bike alongside his community and us in this campaign,” Marie said.

They stumbled on the ride while seeking out something specifically to raise awareness about mental health, says Manfred Schneider, who’s endured a steep learning curve since losing his friend of 20 years to suicide.

“I was unaware of mental health. It’s something I had no clue about,” said Schneider, adding the struggle was something his friend shielded them from. “If I knew what I know today, I might have been able to do more for him.”

Ken, after all, was the one who pulled him from depression last year.

“He saw me going into a hole and he recognized that,” Schneider said.

Even the name Ride Don’t Hide resonates as Ken tried to hide his fight with mental health. The team hopes events like this will show others quietly struggling that there is a community that wants them to feel comfortable enough to seek the help they need.

RELATED: Oak Bay optometrist challenges community to target 100 for Ride Don’t Hide

While embarking on fundraising, Schneider noticed a trend not uncommon among those who talk about mental health and suicide.

“It’s quite surprising how many people have told me they lost a loved one to mental health as well,” he said.

According to the CMHA, about 4,000 Canadians die by suicide every year. The most at-risk group is men in their 40s and 50s.

Being alert to the fact that someone might be experiencing suicidal thoughts and being able to ask the question are key, says Jocelyn deMontmorency, program manager for CMHA BC Division’s Victoria office.

“People 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,” she said.

CMHA offers programs such as safeTALK (Suicide Alertness for Everyone) a program they bring to Oak Bay frequently.

“In safeTALK we talk about the fact that there are suicides that happen,” deMontmorency said. “More often than not people do not want to die by suicide, they want someone to talk to them about suicide, they want to talk about what they’re feeling.”

The half-day training offers basic steps to identify a person with thoughts of suicide, ask them directly about the possibility of suicide, and connect them to life-saving community supports and resources. Sessions are again planned for Oak Bay and Juan de Fuca in the fall. For more resources visit askaboutsuicide.ca.

A Real Dandy team

Ken was a witty kind of guy, says Schneider, who happens to be a leading fundraiser ahead of Sunday’s event. Whenever the circle of friends got together for dinners someone always got roasted.

“The times we were ever picking on Ken, he always says ‘you’re a real dandy, or you’re a piece of work’. That was one of his favourite expressions,” Schneider says. “If you outwitted him he always had a comeback of some sort.”

Team Real Dandy is second in fundraising teams so far at $10,640, with Oak Bay optometrist-led Shaggy and the Rat Traps in the lead at $12,090.

He was such a strong guy nobody can even believe it happened … he meant a lot to everybody so everybody wants to contribute,” Schneider said.”

Oak Bay’s Hugh Turner leads the individual fundraisers at $7,525.

Donate to a team or register for the ride – Sunday, June 24 at Windsor Park – at ridedonthide.com/bc/ride/victoria.

For more CMHA resources visit victoria.cmha.bc.ca.

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