HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A Holland family is making good on a promise to improve the mental health system after losing their son to suicide in September.
After years of battling depression, Ian Miskelley was 19 when he took his life while away at school in Ann Arbor.
The Holland Christian High School graduate was a standout athlete, living out his dream swimming for the University of Michigan.
“When Ian died, I said, ‘I’m going to do something,’” Ian’s dad Steve Miskelley said. “I promised him I’m going to do something to make some good come from this.”
Steve Miskelley and his wife Jill are in the process of launching the Ian Miskelley Be Better Mental Wellness Center.
Located in Holland, the nonprofit will help adolescents 12 to 22 years old suffering from depression and anxiety.
“We want them to come to us and we’re going to help them navigate the mental health system. Because if you’ve ever had to do that on your own, it is really, really difficult,” Steve Miskelley said.
Their vision for the center includes offering everything from clinical services and drop-in counseling resources to organizing support groups for parents, siblings and friends of those struggling with mental health.
As the world of sports takes a deeper look at mental health following Olympic superstar Simone Biles’ decision to not compete to focus on her mental health, Ian’s parents are eager to see the conversation continue.
“He was already doing a lot trying to have a conversation and trying to tell his teammates the struggles he was going through,” Steve Miskelley said. “This would have empowered him I think to be able to say look, I’m not the only one, there are even these athletes on the world’s largest stage.”
Since Ian’s death, his friends and former teammates have also become vocal about the importance of mental health and athletes.
Caroline Sisson said she and Ian swam together through their high school years into college at the University of Michigan.
When asked about her thoughts on mental health and athletics, Sisson said the culture of athletics perpetuates the problem.
“You’re taught from a very young age that if you want to be the best, you have to push through everything and that’s how people get to the college/NCAA level is that you’re able to outlast everybody else,” Sisson said. “You can tolerate the pain, you can tolerate the exhaustion and everything that comes with being an athlete for longer than everybody else. So, when you have something like depression, anxiety or an eating disorder, it makes it that much harder to take a step back and think of yourself as a person removed from the sport so you can address those problems first.”
Another fellow teammate of Ian’s from his days in Holland recently dedicated her senior project in high school to exploring the topic of athletes and mental health.
“No matter where I went or who I saw or families, I knew they’d be like, ‘Hey are you swimming in college. How’s swimming going?’” Ian’s former teammate Haley Menghini said. “I think for a lot of athletes, that’s the number one thing people want to ask … but at the same time, that kind of (adds) pressure.”
Ian’s best friend and former teammate Anna Franz shared with News 8 her experience with swimming and mental health, saying she ultimately decided not to pursue swimming in college.
“Especially for student-athletes, there’s so much pressure and expectations from other people,” Franz said.
After 15 years of swimming, Franz said she is enjoying finding new interests and strengths outside of the sport.