HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A grieving family from Holland is opening up about their son’s suicide after the 19-year-old University of Michigan student-athlete took his life own last month.

“He’s the type of person that any father would want to be told, ‘this is what your son was like,’” Steve Miskelley, Ian’s father, said.

With pain in his voice and pride in his heart, Miskelley will tell you all about his only son.

“He was kind, he was generous, he was compassionate, he looked out for the underdog,” Miskelley said.

Miskelley’s family learned some of their favorite stories of Ian only after his passing when the letters started pouring in.

From teachers to teammates, many remember Ian as the guy who wouldn’t hesitate to help a person struggling.

From the outside, it was easy to believe the 19-year-old had it all figured out.

The Holland Christian High School graduate was a star swimmer, winning state championships and breaking records before going on to join the University of Michigan’s swim team.

An undated courtesy photo of Ian Miskelley signing with the University of Michigan Athletics program.

But under the surface, Ian was struggling with clinical depression and anxiety.

He was just 11 years old when he realized something wasn’t right, taking his concerns to his parents.

“He said, ‘I got something to tell you — I’m just angry all the time and I don’t understand’,” Miskelley said.

From that moment on, his family backed Ian in his battle. But just like so many other diseases, even the best doctors, therapies and support systems aren’t always enough.

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The fear of Ian dying by suicide haunted his family for years.

“That was always in the back of our mind,” Miskelley said.

In September, Ian took his own life while away at school in Ann Arbor. He had just started his junior year.

Ian’s family says there were no warning signs.

Just a week earlier, Ian posted a photo with his teammates to Instagram. In the caption, he wrote, “… it’s important to stick with those around us through thick and thin … Here’s to year 3 with the best team out there.” 

Ian’s family sees him as a warrior for surviving all the days he did.

An undated courtesy photo of Ian Miskelley and family.

“This isn’t a choice that he made. This isn’t a mistake,” Miskelley said. “This is a disease. A disease is what took him. But we’ve got to be able to talk about that disease.”

The Miskelley family is now setting out to break the stigma around mental illness, saying even before Ian’s death, it’s something others around them struggled to understand — lacking the empathy and compassion.

“Afterward, I think it was like an awakening,” Miskelley said. “It really opened people’s eyes, like wow he was such a great kid, he had a lot going for him, he just had these demons in the background that were just gnawing at him.”

After his passing, Ians family asks that any donations be made to:

The Ian Miskelley Memorial Fund
c/o The Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area
85 E. 8th Street, Suite 110
Holland, MI 49423

Miskelley said they’ll use those funds to help give back to the community that supported Ian for so many years.

Ian’s parents are also working with the University of Michigan to create an endowed swimming scholarship in his name.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by phone at 1.800.273.8255 or online. They are available 24 hours a day and offer free and confidential support.