16 years ago my family experienced a profound loss – in a tragic moment of despair and heartache, my brother Denny took his own life. He was just 25 years of age, with so much promise and potential in his future. His loss was an enormous tragedy that clawed at my family, each one of us, from the inside out. A part of us – so loved – was simply here one minute and gone the next.
Denny was a strong-willed, kind-hearted, fiery spirited, and remarkably intelligent young man. He also lived a life of being deeply and persistently misunderstood. Suffering silently with a range of mental health issues – Denny viewed and experienced the world differently.
Misunderstood, time and time again – in the school system, in the offices of many and varied medical experts and psychologists, and by so, so many people around him – Denny spiralled into a deep, dark abyss… the walls hardened with layers of depression, despair, and self-hatred for never seemingly being able to truly fit in this world.
For 25 years he tried to fit – he tried to make life work and to see the world through the same lens that everyone else seemed to. And our family fought this battle alongside him, searching for answers to the complex challenges he faced.
Some of my earliest memories in life are of learning as a pre-schooler, how to inject adrenaline directly into my brother’s heart to keep it beating, for a rare condition that he suffered from. Years later, long after Denny had recovered from his rare condition, we were all still striving to keep his heart going – desperate to help him the see the beauty in life that makes it worth living, when he had given up on life and lost all hope that he would ever make it in this world.
In the wake of Denny’s death, each member of my family searched their souls for meaning and context – for something of value, something with a positive merit, to extract from the darkness that had consumed us completely in Denny's loss.
We simply had to believe that, for the sum of a million incredible qualities and talents, and for all that was so special and loved about Denny, there had to be something - anything - that we could take away from his death to bring about some good and for his tenacious spirit to live on.
Moving out of the darkness and into the light, we would eventually find a way to remember Denny's life, and to draw some positives from the tragedy of his loss. And so it is that The DENNY Foundation was born, with the hope of increasing awareness around the issues that young people living with mental health face.
Today we share Denny’s story to support young people in our community who are struggling with mental health issues, take down the stigma surrounding mental illness, and advocate for early diagnosis and intervention among youth who are prone to depression, self-harm, and suicide. We try to intervene in the unwritten chapters of these young lives, knowing all too well the tragic ending that could read on the final pages.
We support families in need – having at one time been in this place ourselves. Families with children with mental illness, parents of children with disabilities, children being raised in families in which the parents suffer from mental illness… families of varied and diverse needs, and we offer support and assistance to all of them without discrimination, because mental illness does not discriminate - it can happen to any one of us. To us at The DENNY Foundation, the youth and families who we support are not merely 'cases' or 'clients', they are people just like us; and we take each into our hearts as family. When we started The DENNY Foundation, we made one commitment, and it is that no-one will further suffer, from being misunderstood, on our watch; and this is a promise we still uphold today.
In the time when Denny was young, no one believed that kids could suffer from mental health issues. Taken from specialist to specialist - the most elite in the country - his issues were constantly dismissed. As he grew up, the problems he faced compounded, and searching for answers, he never could find them. Denny described his life as torment, and one day he just couldn't take any more.
Denny never got his answers.
Now we live in a very different time, with greater research and understanding of neurobiology and psychology. We know better, and so we should do better! It took death for Denny to finally find his peace, in a world where he was never understood; but that should never be the case today.
In the final encounter that I had with Denny before he took his own life, we talked about his new aspiration to study medicine and become a doctor for helping others like himself, because (as he said): "if you want to fix something right, you’ve got to do it yourself!"
Denny wanted to reach out to others and make a difference, where he himself had only ever encountered judgement and misunderstanding... swept between the cracks time after time.
It’s with pride that we carry on this mission in his memory. We keep alive his tenacious spirit, in our attempt to change how people think about mental health, and as we try to make our small corner of the world a better place to be.
I call this ‘The Denny effect’! In all that we do as a foundation, we carry his spirit; and it is in his memory that we are inspired to touch the lives that he had hoped he might one day have made a difference to.
In memory of my brother Denny, and so many others like him, I hope that you may be inspired through this site, to be change that you want to see in the world, and then make it happen. In the words of an amazing young man that I once knew: "if you want to fix things right, you've got to do it yourself..."