Raising Awareness and Finding a Purpose: An Interview with Denny Ying

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Denny Ying will be bicycling through town tomorrow and will leave Saturday morning. He often visits with those at police stations and fire stations because first responders are often involved in the initial suicide call. He will be at Big Shooters at 8 a.m. at Saturday morning to visit with Kremmling folks.
Denny Ying will be bicycling through town tomorrow and will leave Saturday morning. He often visits with those at police stations and fire stations because first responders are often involved in the initial suicide call. He will be at Big Shooters at 8 a.m. at Saturday morning to visit with Kremmling folks.

by Mykaela A. Jones

September is suicide awareness month and Denny Ying, a business school graduate of California Polytechnic State University, and a US Marine veteran feels like he may have found his purpose in raising awareness for suicide and mental health. ‘ How is he doing this?’ you may be wondering. Well, Ying is riding all across the country to raise awareness for military veteran suicide prevention and mental health. His reasons for doing so? A very interesting story, from an extremely passionate advocate for this very relevant issue.

Using the power of social media and just talking to people along the way, Ying also created this shirt that he dedicated in honor of those who have been lost to suicide, at each stop he allows people to write the names of those they have lost to suicide with a sharpie, therefore in a way carrying on their legacy. “At the end of the day these people just become another name and number in statistics, but every person has a story,” says Ying, “I’ve been getting better at keeping track of the names that people keep sending me. The goal of the shirt is to raise awareness for those who are still struggling and to remind them that their pain and experience are real and valid.”

Ying’s ride started four months ago when he was going through a rough period in his life. Then on the memorial day of this year, he decided to sell all his belongings, buy a bike, and start a lengthy journey from San Francisco to Boston. He says that he gave up everything when he was in Sacramento, where he says he has no plans to return to. He seems to have no regrets, and for good reasons.

Ying focused on the point that pretty much his whole life he never had a clear idea about what his purpose was. However, during the period of time where his life was falling apart is when he realized there was a lot of things that he needed to change.

“I pretended that everything was okay and for sixteen years of my life what good has that done for me?” This was a big change for Ying, as he mentioned that he was never did enjoy sweating, he said with a laugh, “If you were to ask people close to me to describe me with one word, ‘endurance’ would not be one of the words people would use.”

During the four months of his bike ride across the states, Ying says that he feels that he has found a purpose. He mentioned that his bike ride from Denver to Chicago gave him plenty of time to think clearly about a lot of things in his life, while emphasizing the time it gave him to clear his head.
“I realized that when I was struggling [with his mental health] it wasn’t because I was in uniform, it was because I’m human.” He mentioned a story about when he rode through Nevada, where he learned that many firefighters and other first responders end up dying by suicide. He came across this by speaking to first responders and learning their stories. It circles back to his goal in raising awareness for those who have been in uniform. He said, “There is always a time and place for people to discuss their feelings,” but he is correct when he says that the life is not always on the battlefield, “It takes a lot of courage to admit that we are hurting than it does to keep all those emotions in and end up causing more problems for ourselves.”

Ying also said something that everyone should keep in mind when it comes to the topic of mental health, especially when people are looking at their own mental health. “Last time I checked, I’m a human being. I have feelings, and I would hope that it’s okay to cry.” he made it clear several times in the interview that just because someone wears a uniform that doesn’t make them immune to basic human emotions. In all honesty everyone, regardless of what uniform they wear or where they come from in life. He is passionate about starting that conversation, which is what he was hoping his ride would do.

Why would people choose to avoid the topic of suicide or mental health? Well the answer is simple, it is a hard and often uncomfortable topic to discuss. While that may be true it is the unfortunate reality of the general populous. Ying stated on this topic, “This is me not following the status quo.” In looking for his passion he literally was willing to give up his whole life and even career to bring attention to these issues. He confidently stated this about his purpose, “I want to educate and inspire people. To let them know that not only can we survive, but that we thrive and live.”

So what is the end game? Ying says that he hopes to bring more attention to this cause. He hopes that in the future there will be more cross country riders (Who will be survivors of suicide attempts and other mental health crises) who will do more rides for charity. He hopes to have these riders compete in the biggest platforms for these causes. He hopes that while those who may join him will look to not only change their lives, but to become a beacon of hope for those who need it.

How is he planning to make money for this? Well in leaving behind his life he also left behind the notion that he will get a steady job on top of doing these rides. He says, “People are dying left and right. I don’t have time for a job when so many lives are at stake.” While he still has money left over from he is more concerned with getting his message and awareness for the subject across. He said that this journey has also given him the opportunity to learn to take better care of himself.

Ying’s closing statements about what he’s doing serve as a reminder of where he came from and where he hopes this cause goes. “This wasn’t always a selfless cause. It all started out as my own problem in trying to find my purpose but it just became so much better. One day I am going to die, we all are, and I just hope that the legacy I am trying to create with this lives on for centuries to come.” He also made it clear that in order for their to be change in the way suicide and mental health are viewed, we need to become the change for the awareness that we want to see.

Since this is suicide awareness month, I would encourage everyone to check on those people in your life that you love. Considering that the suicide rate in the State of Colorado has increased 34% since 1999 (CDC CNN Wire June 8, 2018), it is always a good idea to check in on everyone. Even the ones who seem like they are okay, because you never really know what people are going through.

If you or someone you care about is dealing with a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts, there are some resources at the end of this article in order to get extra help that may be needed. Ying will be riding through and stopping in Kremmling later this week, and I hope that the people of Kremmling are willing to listen to his message. He is also encouraging all the people he meets to write a name on his shirt in order to have the memory of a loved one lost by mental illness, so that their legacy and story may be commemorated by someone who is just trying to make a difference. 

Colorado Crisis Services:
1-844-493-8255
Mental Health Colorado: 720-208-
2220, ww.mentalhealthcolorado.com
Mind Springs Granby: 970-887-2179
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1-800-273-8255