On Jan. 16, 2018, our son Tyler lost hope — and we lost Tyler.
We knew him as this bright light shining at our dinner table, on our family vacations and on the football field for the world to see. His smile shared beams of joy and illuminated the world around us, but we did not know that behind his sweet and happy face was a darkness taking hold of his soul.
Ultimately, depression/anxiety took hold, his brain betrayed him and Tyler died by suicide.
Over the past 18 months our family has struggled with the pain, the anger, the frustration, the helplessness, the fear and the hopelessness that follows such a tragic event. We have also learned that we are not alone as 36,700 men die by suicide in the U.S. each year — making it the second-leading cause of death of men ages 10-34.
In a study by Depression & Anxiety, researchers found that 1 in 4 college students had been diagnosed with or treated for a mental health issue; 20% of all students surveyed thought about suicide and 9% had attempted it.
Those numbers are heartbreaking. This is an epidemic that is going untreated and is often ignored. Why is this? Simply put: stigma. The darkness which surrounds mental health — both as a discussion topic and also for those battling its grip — has to be addressed. Those struggling with it need to be able to see the hope which can often be so elusive. To know that at the end of the day: You are not alone in this fight.
That is why Hilinski’s Hope is going on the road as much as possible to spread the word. It’s why we’ve taken trips to UCLA, Oregon State, Ole Miss, Idaho, Stony Brook and right here at the University of South Carolina — with many more planned. Universities need to understand what needs to be done to bolster their resources for students, from providing more trained professionals to educating others on how to spot the warning signs.
Even in the darkest moments, everyone can have a conversation. This is really what our mission has been all along: to open up the lines of communication to bring this issue out into the light where it can be treated and dealt with, not festering away in the darkness.
It can be a conversation with a friend, a teammate or a colleague. A conversation about what’s happening in your head, what’s bringing you joy and where you find hope. Two people talking can do all of that, and these conversations can change lives and end the stigma around mental health.
While we know this won’t bring back Tyler or others we’ve lost, we feel we can demonstrate strength through vulnerability and share our stories of struggle to lift each other up. Together we can provide the light for others to find their way through their darkness, and we can create hope for brighter days ahead for all of us.
Mark and Kym Hilinski are the founders of Hilinski’s Hope. Hilinski’s Hope Foundation (H3H) helps save lives by eliminating stigma and scaling mental wellness programs for student athletes. H3H does this by sharing Tyler’s story, connecting students with mental health resources and assisting universities to institutionalize best practices. H3H envisions a world where mental health is supported in parity with physical health. To learn more about Hilinski’s Hope please visit www.hilinskishope.org or text H3Hope to 44321 to donate.
(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of monthly articles in The State supporting mental health awareness.)