GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — From the depths of depression, the stage and spotlight was the furthest place Madison Miller ever thought she would be.
When Natasha Heykoop lost her veteran brother to suicide, it was hard to see the good in life. Now, she is a beacon for those dealing with veteran suicide through her nonprofit Lighthouse for Veterans.
Chase Williams’ daily battle with anxiety and substance abuse brought him to the edge of living. Now, he stands at the edge of the auditorium, teaching others from his past.
Together, these three are living the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan’s be nice. action plan. Each letter representing a core value for maintaining positive mental health.
Miller had friends and family “notice” that her behaviors had changed longer than two weeks — a sign of a problem. There was no way for them to know the 9-year-old was writing daily suicide notes, obsessing on the idea of taking her own life. Noticing, was the first step in getting her help.
Heykoop noticed a problem as well — there was no local help for veterans dealing with mental health issues after their tours in the military. She created Lighthouse for Veterans to “invite” the conversation for veterans to have. She started veterans only retreats where fellow vets can open up and share their stories with each other in a safe setting so that what happened to her brother won’t happen to them.
The “challenge” in the action plan came to Williams from his parents. He was using drugs daily but instead of punishing him, they challenged him to get help. It was the olive branch he needed to started towards recovery, he says he never would have sought help on his own.
They have used the first letters of the action plan in their own unique ways; the way to notice, invite and challenge is dependent on the environment of each individual situation.
But to “empower” looks the same regardless of what they have been through; each is using their specific battles with mental illness to help educate and save others.
Miller and Williams use their struggles in front of peers and adults. They share the darkest parts of their stories to shed light on to the fact that the grips of mental illness can tighten around any one, at any time.
Heykoop says it’s like CPR, you teach it to save lives. If you know what to do then you can prevent someone from making an irreversible decision.
If you would like to learn more about the be nice. action plan or take the Mental Health Foundation’s pledge, visit the organization’s website.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention explains risk factors and warning signs for suicide at its website. 24-hour help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255.