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B.C. family using kindness to de-stigmatize mental health in honour of loved one

Boxes of free pet treats left at parks to spark conversation about suicide and mental health

Kara Warren’s older brother had a big personality. Trent Edward Gibney was an amazing storyteller who could captivate any audience with his embellished tales. He was artistic, he loved to write poetry and cook. And he was a passionate individual who loved animals, especially cats.

It wasn’t a secret to Warren’s family that Gibney had struggled with his mental health for his entire life.

But it did come as a shock when he took his own life on Sept. 8, 2021, at the age of 38.

To honour his life on the anniversary of his death, Warren’s family put together four boxes filled with treats and toys for both cats and dogs and placed them in parks in both Maple Ridge and Mission for animal owners to take what they wanted. They called it Day of Kindness. But what they really want to do is spark a bigger conversation about mental health for Suicide Awareness Month, which falls in September.

Gibney left behind five siblings, including Warren, who was the youngest of the bunch. Gibney never had a straightforward go of things, said Warren. When they were children, he was the one the school was always calling their parents about. He was dealing with mental health issues his whole life.

When he was an adult, it seemed, he could never catch a break, said Warren. He was continuously getting knocked down – he lost his job a couple of years before his passing when he fell at work breaking both his feet, landing him in a wheelchair.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and he was dealing with isolation and a financial pinch. He was constantly playing catch-up with his mounting bills.

However, at the time when he took his life, his life seemed to be pulling together. He had just finished his electrical apprenticeship and had gone out a week or two prior to his death to celebrate. He already had a job and things were looking good, said Warren.

He had plans to go out with his mother the afternoon of Sept. 8, but when she arrived at his Albion home to pick him up he had already passed away.

“There was no note left, there was no real explanation that anybody has as to what happened. So it was really a shock to us that it happened this way and at this time in his life,” said Warren.

As Warren and her family pieced together the final days of her brother’s life, they realized that he had decided on suicide possibly a day ahead of time. However, when they entered his home after his death, he appeared to be in the middle of working on his tax return, his dinner was still sitting on the stove waiting to be enjoyed, and the TV was left on.

“In some senses it seems as though this was decided ahead of time and in other senses it seems like, you know, it looks like he just got up to run to the bathroom, or something and then something just triggered him,” she said.

Although Gibney had attempted to take his own life as a teenager, he was never diagnosed with any mental health issues. There were also times when his friends and family were worried about him and asked him to seek help, but his concern would be that he would lose his job.

READ MORE: National suicide prevention hotline coming November 2023

Warren explained that if a person is admitted to the psych ward, they might be there for a couple of weeks. When they are finally discharged they find themselves back in the same environment – only further behind with bill payments, and the situation becomes more desperate.

“I know it really felt to him that he couldn’t afford to take the time away or the time off to actually get the help that he really desperately was needing at so many different parts of his life,” she said.

“He couldn’t afford to take care of himself in ways he needed to because there were immediate financial repercussions for him that he just couldn’t manage.”

Warren and her family also want to address the stigma people face when it comes to addressing their mental health. Warren, a clinical counsellor in the community, sees the stigma all the time with her patients, who worry that somebody will see them go into her office.

When her brother was encouraged by the family to seek help and a proper diagnosis, they were often met with an emphatic “no”. He would say, “I’m better than that,” or think that he should be able to cope with his problems.

Even after his death, Warren and her family agreed they would not be secretive about the way he died and wanted to be open about the fact that it was suicide.

RELATED: Better suicide prevention needed for B.C. youth, group says

But, she said, coworkers, neighbours, and sometimes even their closest friends would avoid them because they didn’t want to talk about it.

“They would avoid eye contact. They would scurry inside in the hopes of not having to talk to us,” she said, adding that it was really obvious and apparent why they acted in that way.

Warren and her family want to talk. They want to inspire others to talk. And that is what they managed to do with the Day of Kindness. People, who discovered the boxes – one at Horseman’s Park along 224 Street, one at the Albion dog park behind Planet Ice, another along a walking trail by Kanaka Creek, and another at a dog park in Mission – used the hashtag #treatsfromtrent to have a conversation.

Warren and her family were touched by how much their Day of Kindness resonated with people.

One person reached out to Warren to tell her they they have been struggling with mental health for three decades and how they chose a fridge magnet from the box of goodies.

“I’m going to light a candle tonight to honour your brother Trent,” they said.

Others, who knew Gibney, shared how kind and special he was.

Stigma attached to mental health, said Warren, is the most immediate and tangible issue that needs addressing.

“We need to be talking more about this. We need to understand how many of our friends and neighbours are in the same boat dealing with similar things,” she said.

Ryan Groening shared online that he struggles at times with injuries he sustained at work. He said he has been to psychiatric wards and sought help for his depression and stress. Talking to people helps, he noted. He introduced Melody, a dog rescued from Thailand, saying that she is part of his war on depression.

“Asking for help was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. If you are struggling please talk to someone, even when you think no one in the world cares! I had no idea who this stranger offering treats was, and I left crying,” he said, about his discovery of one of Warren’s boxes.

“I love my new magnet, I’m going to keep writing my story. May you rest easy Trent, thanks for the poop bags,” he said.

For information about resources and supports on suicide prevention or to find a 24 hour crisis centre go to

If you feel like you are in immediate crisis help is available at Call Talk Suicide Canada 1-833-456-4566 or the Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868. If you’re in imminent danger call 911 or go to Emergency.

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Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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