Dennis Gillan

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Dennis Gillan is a national thought leader on the topic of suicide prevention and mental health advocacy. He travels internationally speaking, raising awareness and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health.


Dennis has been deeply touched by suicide after the loss of both of his brothers to suicide, eleven years apart. After years of sitting on the sidelines, he jumped into helping those in need by working on the suicide prevention hotline when he lived in Chicago. After moving to South Carolina, Dennis got involved with several non-profits that take on mental health issues, and this allowed him to lobby lawmakers and raise awareness by sharing his story. Dennis gave a TEDx talk about loneliness that has received over 25,000 views! Dennis also co-wrote a children's book about dealing with sadness and showing children how kindness can save a life.


Dennis is the executive director of a non-profit called the Half a Sorrow Foundation. The name of the foundation comes from an old Swedish proverb that states: a shared joy is a double joy; a shared sorrow is half a sorrow. The mission of the Half a Sorrow Foundation is to improve mental health by promoting real conversations. Dennis’s keynote talk promotes real conversations, and his style and delivery are like nothing else out there. He combines his losses with real-world solutions and even sprinkles in humor from time to time to disarm the audience and let the message land, and that message is that life is worth living! You can find out more here:

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“I was getting a little emotional. So powerful.” “It was absolutely amazing!” “I really, really enjoyed it and the presenter was so good and engaging!” “Your talk was so motivational; usually when people talk about suicide, I get this weird feeling inside of me and I get uncomfortable listening to people talking about it. Your talk changed that. It wasn't all sad stories and saying, “this is why you shouldn’t do it”. You did it in a more positive way, through not only sharing the sad stories, but sharing good ones too and lightening the mood after a sad story. Hearing how you worked at a suicide prevention hotline, dealing with peoples’ delicate lives, made me feel like even I can help at least one person if they’re sad. Thank you so much for the best suicide talk I’ve ever heard and will hear!” “I thought Dennis was amazing and had a great personality. He was witty and spoke very positively. I liked how he made the presentation interactive a little bit. His words and stories really were touching. He’s been through a lot, yet still sees the positivity in each and every day. One of the best speakers we’ve ever had in this sorority!” “I was enthralled the entire time. My attention during Zoom meetings normally is not great, but I was glued to each word he had to say. I felt moved by his presentation, and it reminded me how much words matter. I think a lot of people need to hear the same message Dennis had to offer, and I think this event came at a great time for Sigma Kappa. Things have not been easy since Covid, and tons of college students struggle with their mental health. Opening the conversation in any way possible is so imperative to our health, and Dennis did an amazing job making us comfortable to open up.” “Send this man some donuts. He deserves them!”

Sigma Kappa at Penn State

“Dennis Gillan is effective in tearing down the walls of silence which long have surrounded the issue of mental health, especially depression and suicide. His approach is gentle, testimonial, and even sometimes humorous. Several students made the decision to seek help through Counseling Services following his presentation at Gardner-Webb University.”

Tracy C. Jessup

Dennis's speech was moving in many ways. I thought he was going to speak about his suicidal experience but his story was unpredictable, raw, and empowering. I am glad that he spoke to about how suicide is relevant to everyone and that it affects everyone, not just people thinking or acting on their suicidal thoughts. I also liked that he did not just talk about suicide, but also about the factors that go into and ways to recognize the symptoms and how to address it. I also enjoyed that he talked about how his family members cope differently due to the deaths because it gave a realist and broad spectrum. Grief is not a singular method and not everyone actually grieves out of fear of reliving the horrible incident. Dennis is very empowering for how far he has come, from denial to substance use to opening up and finally to helping others. Even though he has a difficult past, his past is what has made him the man today and his story will help others. Again I have no recommendation because he was a great speaker, gave appropriate information, it was educational, and most importantly it was real. Every moment of his speech was captivating.

  • What is your favorite quote? A shared joy is a double joy; a shared sorrow is half a sorrow.
  • Are there any moments that stand out as having a significant impact on your career? The first time I spoke, I cried the entire time. Second time, I cried half the time. Third time they prayed for me before I went on and I needed that and I crushed that talk. Crushed it!!
  • Outside of your profession do you have any hobbies/interests? Tennis, hiking, and anything that gets me out of my head.
  • Who do you look up to as a mentor and why? In the speaking business---John O'Leary. His message is inspiring and he is just a great guy in general. I aspire to have an organization like his, and to be as nice as he is:)
  • Is there anything else we should know about you? Watch what happens after the talk....people come up to me and share some of their sorrows. It blows my mind and I have to factor in time for it. This is when the magic happens!