October 27th, 2009
03:37 PM ET

Is it possible to stop the mental health stigma in America?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/27/art.vert.bball.jimmy.jpg width=292 height=320]

David Puente
AC360° Producer

“In school, he was popular, athletic, and I was always proud to have him as my brother. As he got older, I sometimes thought he was a little moody, but never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that my brother might be suffering from depression and would ultimately die from it. “

– Lynda Ganley Andree

It struck me to hear a parent say that if a child dies from an illness, people know how to express condolences. But if a child dies from suicide, as was the case for the parent who emailed me today, then folks just aren’t sure what to say. Depression and suicide are still so taboo.

“AIDS was taboo, now it is openly discussed. I want the same to happen when it comes to depression and suicide. I want people to learn the signs of depression,” that’s what Jim Ganley told me today via email.

Jim is the Chief Operating Officer of Fox Pan-American Sports, a media executive who suffered the loss of his only son Jimmy who died five years ago at the age of 22 due to undiagnosed depression.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/27/art.jimmy.dolphin.jpg caption="A childhood photograph of Jimmy Ganley."]

“Deciding what to do and how to do it is very complicated. I have worked in the media business my whole life and figured that there must be a way to use what I have learned and the people I have met to make a difference,” Ganley said.

That’s how Ganley and his family founded The Ganley Foundation, a 501C(3) organization that teaches about depression and challenges the stigmas that prevent intervention and treatment.

His daughter Laura is planning to run the 26.2-mile New York Marathon on November 1, in honor of her brother.

“Losing my brother has caused immense sadness in my life. I miss his huge smile, sarcastic wit, generous heart and calming spirit. I miss the way he used to make fun of the silly things my Mom, Sister and I would do. I miss his big bear hugs,” Laura says.

She also tries not to think about the “what ifs”. “What if I had known that depression is the number one cause of suicide?” she asks. “That suicide remains the third cause of death for all youth ages 10-24, second cause of death for college students, and that there are warning signs”.

“As race day draws near I am nervous, yet mostly excited because I know that with every stride I take I am helping raise awareness to those millions of people throughout the world who suffer with depression every day” Laura adds.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • David Puente • Health Care
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Vanessa

    Laura – what an amazing journey you are about to embark on this Sunday – Jimmy will be with you every step of the way. We are so proud of you!

    October 28, 2009 at 8:49 am |
  2. Gary Thomas

    Through their efforts the Ganleys have turned what has to be the most painful event of their lives into a wonderful legacy for Jimmy.
    Many lives will be touched and some saved by this family.
    Go Ganleys, and may God Bless your work.

    October 28, 2009 at 8:40 am |
  3. Karen

    Laura, it takes great strength of character to take your pain and turn it into gain for others. Your efforts, along with your family's dedication to suicide awareness, will bring about life-changing results. That's the greatest honor you can pay to your brother, Jimmy. Run toward your goal with determination and courage. Good luck!

    October 28, 2009 at 8:27 am |
  4. Linda Douglas

    Good luck in your marathon, Laura. I believe your mental toughness and dedication will pull you through, thinking of the mental toughness that Jimmy couldn't find. I don't know the answers; whether the drugs help or hinder. I do know that the more we learn and talk about it, the better chance we have to find some of those answers. If nothing else, the exposure and quest for education on the subject help those of us left behind to deal with the pain. Your family is making great strides in bringing this matter to the "front lines". I believe Jimmy knows all you are doing and that it put one of those smiles back on his face. and when you "hit the wall" he will be there, in spirit, to give you one of those bear hugs.

    October 28, 2009 at 6:36 am |
  5. patty

    We'll be cheering you on from Florida Laura... You go girl!!

    October 28, 2009 at 5:14 am |
  6. Linda Thomas

    I lost a son in an accident and was devastated. I cannot imagine the pain Jimmy's parents have experienced but am amazed at their strength and determination to make a difference in the world in Jimmy's honor. They are to be commended and supported in this tragic and necessary endeavor.

    October 27, 2009 at 11:25 pm |
  7. Frank

    Go Laura!!! You are running for a worthy cause, Every school needs life saving programs that foster mental health awareness.

    October 27, 2009 at 7:51 pm |
  8. Joan Onderdonk

    My husband, Doug, lost his life to depression/suicide in 2005. And, to this day it angers me when people refuse to believe that depression is a serious illness. I also feel that to commit something means it is an act of choice; with the person suffering from depression it is the urge to end the mental pain. I do not believe it is an act of choice for the person suffering with depression. The more we discuss this topic openly the safer the person will feel coming forward that is suffering from this serious illness.

    October 27, 2009 at 7:35 pm |
  9. Christina

    One of the problems with depression and suicide is how those close to the victims react. When someone commits suicide, their loved ones feel like they should have done more. However, we are not therapists and we are not God. There is only so much one can do. We can't make someone want to live. We can't get in their minds and make them happy or contented or hopeful. Even if they seek treatment, doctors and therapists can only do so much. They also can't control how the patient thinks, feels, or acts.

    I don't believe we can place all the blame for suicide on the medicines used to treat depression. Often people aren't even diagnosed or given drugs for depression, but still kill themselves. I don't think we know enough and we need to learn that we can't always control the situation, as much as we would like to.

    October 27, 2009 at 7:20 pm |
  10. Katy

    This story could have easily been my Rob...He died at 17, just a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday...it was his last day of high school...
    The basketball picture above could be him..he too was athletic, funny, sarcastic...had friends...was beautiful...
    I had no idea he was in pain...depressed..had I know I would have done anything...everything to make this not be my life today..
    Rob's brother is living and following his dream...this because I was able to get up ..move forward and believe that Rob in no way meant to hurt us...had he known our lives would be so shattered..would he have stayed? tried to stay longer? No, I believe what I have been told...he could only see the pain and feel it and need to be free of it...
    It;s been 29 months since Rob left...my heart is broken and my life is not what I had dreamed...but through counceling with the LOSS program...walks for AFSP...friends and family..I am here living and remembering every moment with Rob that I can...
    Rob's Mom Always..Katy

    October 27, 2009 at 6:30 pm |
  11. Carol Loehr

    We lost our son, Keith, to suicide in 1999. As a parent I knew of all the illnesses my children could have but I was never taught about the brain and how it might get sick.
    If I only knew the warning signs of depression maybe I would have known my son was suffering from depression.
    I am now trying to educate others about depression and suicide through my website, Thegiftofkeith.org.

    October 27, 2009 at 5:54 pm |
  12. alex lyrics

    This article was pretty sad. I have known many people to suffer from the same.

    Most people just think its a faze, or has to do with a relationship, whether they have or have no one. This illness is very tricky, and people are not diagnosed.

    Those who are tend not to want to take medication. We are intering very troublesome times, when our society is being heavily medicated.

    I don't know what the cause of all these new illnesses are, but its scary.

    October 27, 2009 at 3:56 pm |
  13. Patrick

    From my observation it is not the depression that causes most suicides but the drug therapy which is documented as causing suicidal thoughts. Plus, when a person tries to stop taking a drug, the withdrawal symptoms can be tramatic, causing various negative feelings such as suicidal thoughts. I have family and friends that can not get off these drugs because of the withdrawal symtoms, too tramatic.

    October 27, 2009 at 3:52 pm |