Team, “In Memory of Nick Healey #00” is our team fundraising leader at $4,000 raised at the time of this post. This team of heroes has now raised a combined two year total of $12,680 for CMHA-Vancouver Fraser; thank you! With permission we’re honored to share the story behind their passion to reduce the stigma of mental illnesss and suicide.
I would love you to meet my son Nick, second oldest of five, an amazing bother and even better uncle, grandson, cousin,nephew, and a true friend to so many. Nick was an Honor Roll student and had nearly completed his degree in Criminology. He excelled as a lacrosse goalie, and progressed to become both a referee and coach. Nick was the VP of his fraternity, an advocate for blood donation and an avid volunteer.
We first learned that Nick was suffering when he was in high school. We were told it wasn’t too serious, just normal teenage stress and anxiety. They advised us to keep a close eye on him and to encourage him to keep up with his normal routine as much as possible, so that’s what we did.
Life continued on for all of us and things were going well. Nick would get down at times, but he would always bounce back and once again be cracking jokes, hanging out with his friends and being a normal young adult. Nick was fun, adventurous, outgoing and he was always the life of the party – even if there was no party. Sports were his outlet; he loved lacrosse, spending time with his team mates, and coaching his younger brothers. College was going great and Nick was at the top of his class (even though he slept through many of his lectures). We always said he had a photographic memory. He started working in a busy restaurant and was quickly valued as a Line Cook by his managers and coworkers. As he got older, he developed a passion for hiking; he loved the scenery, the fresh air and how he could push his body to the extreme. There was also never a shortage of young ladies who adored him. Life was amazing for Nick; he had it all and more.
But despite all his success, in December 2012 Nick started talking about taking his own life and was admitted to the hospital. His diagnosis: depression and anxiety. Nick was placed on an antidepressant, advised to take three months off work and receive follow up care with a psychiatrist. How could my loud, funny, practical joker be having such an internal battle? Everything had seemed so normal. What had I missed? What had we all missed? How much was he hiding? And if he struggled again, would we be able to tell? The questions haunted me as a new routine of appointments and medication began, but we continued to support and reassure him, letting him know we were by his side through this journey.
After some adjustment time, Nick started going to the gym daily with his older brother and renewed his love of hiking. Nick planned where and when he would hike and challenged his friends to join him. He informed us his psychiatrist no longer needed to see him, and soon after he stopped taking his antidepressant. I didn’t agree, but he was 21 and a highly functioning adult: working, going to school, spending time with his friends. Now in university, he was a key member in starting his fraternity and initiated much of the charity work associated with it. He always had an amazing or funny story to tell us and continued to be his usual goofy self.
Like any normal mom, I worried about him, but overall I was very proud of how much he had accomplished and how much he had overcome. When family and friends would ask how he was, I was quick to respond, “he’s on top of the world,” and I honestly thought he was – nothing we could see indicated otherwise.
On March 25, 2014 our world crumbled; Nick took his own life. In the days and weeks that followed, everything became a blur. His friends gathered from far and wide, and our house was a hub of grief, love and loss. Friends and family tried to do what they could but we were lost to a grief so big it continues to overwhelm us. We all revisited our last conversations with Nick, our last interactions, our last laughs, looking for clues, for insight, for anything we had missed. Looking back now, I am comforted by the impact my son had on so many people’s lives. Over 700 people attended his service, many of whom expressed Nick’s true selflessness. We learned he had helped friends with their own struggles with mental illness, putting their needs before his. We were moved by how many people he had touched, how many he had inspired, and how deeply he was loved. So how could this happen to such an amazing young man? Why didn’t he ask for help? Was it his pride, the stigma attached, or the fact he thought he won the battle and didn’t need help? We will never know the answer. What we do know is that anxiety and depression is a diagnosis handed out every day, to every age group, every race, every social class and every gender. So what can you do to help? Education is key, not just for those who are struggling, but for our entire society. Learn about mental illness and spread the word. But don’t stop there; take away the stigma and talk about it; share your own struggles, help with your friends’, and above all show compassion. People should not feel the need hide or be ashamed of their struggles. Reach out to those who are suffering and offer whatever support you can. Give you time, your disposable income, or just an ear. Make facing mental illness mainstream – make it okay to be depressed or anxious, to feel hopeless or lost; make it normal, because it is normal to feel that way sometimes. Help those who suffer from mental illness understand that you don’t have to take permanent action to deal with changing emotions Depression and anxiety did not define my son; he was much more than that diagnosis and we will walk and talk in his memory on Sunday, October 4th so that people understand how lucky we were to have him for as long as we did, and how grateful we are for the lessons he taught us.