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Debney Family Shares Story to Combat Mental Health Stigma for World Suicide Prevention Day


On August 21, 2014 the Debney family received a phone call that would change their life. Their son, Gordon Debney, a normally happy and go-lucky man, had died by suicide. He was on the cusp of his thirtieth birthday and his parents and sister were in the midst of planning a surprise birthday for him to be held in September. September 10, 2018 marks World Suicide Prevention Day. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) estimates that each day in Canada, 10 people end their life and 200 make a suicide attempt. Suicide occurs across all age, economic, social, and ethnic boundaries. The tragedy of suicide impacts the entire community.

The Debney family have become strong advocates for mental health awareness and ending the stigma. “My son lost his battle with depression, but we fight on, he matters and his story is not over, not as long as I live. I strongly believe it is not depression or mental illness that takes our loved ones, it is the stigma that prevents them from seeking help, from reaching out. My battle is against the stigma, my son hid his ailment from his friends and from us, and no one should suffer any illness in shame. In public he laughed, played road hockey, volunteered in the community and had a large circle of friends. In private he suffered in anguish,” says Ken Debney.

For the past four years, the Debney family has held a fundraising event in September in honour of Gordon as a way of marking his birthday while raising funds and combatting the stigma associated with mental health and suicide. “The thing is with stigmas, they are in our control, they don’t exist if we don’t let them, but it is a collective effort, the more that fight them the fewer perpetrate them,” says Ken. They have raised over $30,000 in support of suicide prevention in the past four years.

“As a sibling, this was a special type of loss. Gordon was a part of my life even before I was born.  He was a pillar in my foundation from the very beginning. Losing him was like losing one of the wheels on a tricycle. You can still move, but it’s a completely new journey and there is the incredible struggle figuring out how to move forward without that third wheel,” says Gordon’s sister Melanie, she has found strength in connecting with people about mental health through their event.

The 5th Annual Suicide Prevention Fundraiser in Memory of Gordon Clarke Debney will be held on Friday September 14th at the Cambridge Newfoundland Club. Click here to learn more about the event. This year the funds raised will go to Here 24/7 – Here 24/7 is the front door to the addictions, mental health and crisis services provided by 12 agencies across Waterloo Wellington. The theme of the event is ‘Pick up the Phone.’ If you are suffering or you know someone who is please #PICKUPTHEPHONE and contact Here 24/7, they want to help! The message Gordon’s mother Christine wants to share with the community is “we are not ashamed to talk about cancer, or diabetes and we should not be ashamed to talk about depression. You are not alone. Seek help now, don’t suffer silently any more.”

Talking about suicide can provide relief and being a listener is the best intervention anyone can give. Here are a few ways you can help:

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please do not hesitate to reach out by calling Here 24/7 – 1-844-437-3247.

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