SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio — The mental health of our teens is a growing concern as feelings of despair and isolation have risen during the pandemic. But, the problem existed long before.
That's why Andrew and Jeanne Wilson chose to speak out; opening up about the tragedy that struck their family when they lost their bright, athletic, loving son to the epidemic of teen suicide in 2019.
His name was Jack Wilson. He was 18 years old, a driven basketball player at Stow-Munroe Falls High School, and seemingly had it all.
"He was extremely bright. He was extremely athletic. I mean, he swam for years and years and years," Andrew Wilson, Jack's father said.
"He would go to the front door every morning and get the newspaper, bring it inside, sit at the counter in his robe and read the newspaper," his mother, Jeanne Wilson said.
And, Jack's heart? It was as big and giving as the calm lake across from his family's home.
"He was a great big brother. He was great big brother," Andrew said. "He loved his family and he especially loved his grandparents. He loved my wife's parents so much ... just incredibly."
Then, on April 16, 2019, for reasons his parents will never understand, Jack took his own life.
"We were in disbelief for a long time. It was kinda like the perfect storm: a couple things happened to him and I think he got depressed and, he just didn't see a way out," Andrew said.
The last two and a half years have been excruciating missing him.
"His love ... just feeling his love," Jeanne said.
"I miss him being part of our family. Now, it's just, there's just a void. There is a big void now," Andrew said.
That's why the Wilson's are sharing their story ... Jack's story. They hope no other parent will endure a loss like theirs.
"We did everything that we felt like we could to help him," Jeanne said.
"Psychologists and psychiatrists and counselors," Andrew reiterated. "He was removing himself from everything."
It's one of the red flags parents should look for, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Others include:
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive or impulsive behavior
- Dramatic mood swings
But there were also struggles they just couldn't see.
"That's why it's hard for us to know how it happened. Because it was underlying. It was there, but we didn't see it until it gets to the point where it's too late, Andrew said.
It doesn't have to be too late. There is hope and help for kids who have trouble speaking up when something doesn't feel right.
"Don't be afraid to reach out and talk to your friends, anyone that you think that can give good advice. Anyone that you think maybe has gone through something similar ... just don't keep it inside," Jeanne said.
Support is key. This past May, more than 300 community members of Silver Lake showed up to help the Wilsons raise money for mental health programs in schools. One of them is called the Hope Squad.
In their son's honor, they held "A Walk for Jack."
"We really wanted to help the school system with funding for mental health programs. You know, they don't always have the money to do what they'd like to do," Jeanne said.
The Wilson's are giving back, just like the 18 beautiful years their Jack gifted them.
If you or anyone you know is in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. It's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For more on the National Institute on Mental Health, click HERE.