This story is about suicide. Suicide is preventable. The national lifeline for suicide prevention is 800-273-8255.
Mark Hilinski has no particular and favorite memory of his son, Tyler.
Instead, it’s several spread throughout their time together.
It’s all those little moments Mark remembers: picking it up after games, with Tyler’s gear thrown over his shoulder and a smile before he gets into his dad’s car.
Kym and Mark Hilinski started the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation after their son, Tyler, who was the Washington State University quarterback, committed suicide.
“We didn’t want to stop talking about Tyler,” Mark said. “We will never have new photos. We will never receive another SMS or e-mail.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10-34 year olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are risk factors like mental health problems or loss of relationships and warning signs like isolation or sleep disturbance. according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
But in Tyler’s case, Kym and Mark still don’t know why.
A nine-year analysis Data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association shows that student-athletes have lower suicide rates than similar age groups, but among all athletes, soccer players appear to be at higher risk.
October 2-9 celebrated the second annual College Football Mental Health Awareness Week hosted by the Hilinsky Hope Foundation, which also serves as a resource center for student-athletes.
More than 50 colleges, including the University of Buffalo, participated in the week to educate student-athletes struggling with their mental health, break down stigma and bring resources to campus.
Kym and Mark wanted to keep Tyler’s memory alive but prevent this from happening to other student-athletes and their families.
The organization helps fund programs that help educate, advocate and eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health issues among student-athletes.
This year, University of Buffalo wide catcher Dominic Johnson is one of the students benefiting from these programs.
“At a young age I was in an abusive household, and at one point my mom decided it was no longer safe for us to be in that house,” Johnson said. “During that time I faced a lot of struggles and anger issues and things like that and I just questioned myself.”
Johnson’s mother ensured that she and her five younger brothers consulted with their family and their individual counselor to help him cope, something he is still grateful for to this day.
Throughout college, Johnson faced other obstacles such as injuries, relationship issues, stress from academics, and the pressure to be a leader on and off the pitch.
The COVID-19 pandemic which has lasted for more than 18 months exacerbated mental health needs across the country and on college campuses.
For student-athletes, the pandemic and the safety measures needed to stop the spread of the virus have disrupted the structure of their routines, something the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation discovered during their UNIT3D podcast.
“Any sport, you get up at 5 am, train until 7 am, eat at 8 am, right?” You’re going to work out until noon, take a shower, rush to a few classes and come back for more meetings, ”Mark said. “This whole schedule up to the 15 minute mark has already been set and you are so used to doing it. When that was gone, I think everyone lost a bit of an anchor.
While there is some prejudice and stigma around mental health, Johnson has seen others become more open about their struggles during the pandemic.
“When you give someone a safe space to talk and they feel like they won’t be judged and will be supported, then you can talk about it,” Johnson said.
As the week is over, Mark wants people to continue learning about mental health resources and signs and continue the conversation about mental health for student athletes.
“It’s not about football, even during College Football Mental Health Week,” Mark said. “And we’re big fans of varsity athletics. We know the problem isn’t just in football … we use football as a vehicle to get the message and resources across to all student-athletes on campus. If you’re struggling, you deserve all the love and kindness you need to help heal yourself.
Visit the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation website for more information on the initiative.