On Sept. 7, 2017, my 31st wedding anniversary, a date marked by happy memories turned tragic. That was when I learned that my 23-year-old son, Garrett, had died by suicide. Two and a half years later, the news that brought me to my knees rings in my memory as if it were delivered just yesterday. Garrett was popular, talented and loved by his many friends and family members. Yet he felt alone in his struggles. Despite our fervent efforts to get him help, he slipped through our grasp. My husband and I had to come to terms with the most brutal outcome for a parent: We could not save him.” – Julie Halpert, Garrett’s mom
The above was written by Julie as part of a story published in January of last year. Reading those 110 words will bring tears to most people’s eyes – especially the last five words. Having to live through it is indescribable, and having to live on after it is a daily challenge no matter how much time separates you from Sept. 7, 2017.
Garrett, who graduated from Pioneer High School in 2012 and from U-M in 2016, was one of 6,252 Americans ages 15 to 24 who officially died by suicide in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It surprises many to learn that death by suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people.
THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE IS 800-273-8255
Another surprise to many is that there are oftentimes no warning signs. Every one of those 6,252 cases in 2017 was because of different circumstances, different environments and different factors – the only thing that was the same was the end result – not how they got there. While there are sometimes risk factors and warning signs (see a list of some HERE) , more often than not, a parent never even considers the possibility that their child would take their own life.
Garrett was a kind and giving person – “one of the kindest souls I know,” says Julie. He was smart, an exceptional athlete, good looking, funny, outgoing and had a lot of people who considered him a good, reliable and trusted friend.
He also spent a year working at an elementary school in a low-income neighborhood in Washington, D.C. This wasn’t just a young man on course for a great and fulfilling life, but one filled with purpose and meaning, willing to help others have a great life, too.
Those are signs/factors of a bright future, not one dealing with depression.
“On the surface, he had everything going for him,” Julie says.
Garrett was known around the halls of Pioneer High School for many things, including tennis. He was one of the highest ranking tennis players in the state for his age group in high school and played No. 1 singles at Pioneer all four years and holds the record for the most wins at one singles for one of the best programs in the state.
Off the court, Garrett had many passions, including poetry. He performed one of his poems at Breakin Curfew, a talent show for local high school students – and he brought down the house.
“On the surface, he had everything going for him,” Julie says.
Julie, who turns 59 this month in January, has dealt with the pain of losing her son every day since Sept. 7, 2017. And losing a child who takes his or her own life takes an even bigger toll on the survivors. Research shows that people who are grieving a suicide are 80 percent more likely to drop out of school or quit their jobs — and 64 percent more likely to attempt suicide themselves — than those who are grieving sudden losses by natural causes.
Julie and her husband, Scott Halpert, decided to honor Garrett in a special way by helping others, just as Garrett had done so much during his life.
“To create a legacy for Garrett and to help others, we established Garrett’s Space,” Julie says. “Garrett’s Space is dedicated to addressing gaps in treatment for young adults experiencing distress due to mental health challenges. We are working to reduce suicides in young adults by providing programming and a holistically focused center that promotes wellness, healing, self-worth and resilience.”
Julie and Scott saw an immense gap in mental health care for young adults. Many are struggling and need to see a therapist more than once a week but aren’t actively suicidal and the E.R. is not set up to provide long-term treatment.
“We envision a long-term residential center that will be a haven just as drug-rehab facilities often are, a welcoming place set in nature that in addition to therapy and peer-to-peer support, will teach young adults healthy coping skills through movement, meditation, yoga, poetry, music and healthy cooking, to name a few services we will provide,” Julie says.
And those types of services are needed now more than ever. Michigan’s suicide rate has been steadily increasing since 2007 and the coronavirus has pushed these numbers to “epidemic proportions.”
Michigan’s suicide rate has risen 33 percent since 1999, higher than the national rate increase of 25 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that suicide in Michigan is the second leading cause of death for individuals 10 to 34 years of age, and there is an average of one death by suicide every six hours in Michigan.
“We hope Garrett’s Space allows young people to know that people care about them and they are not alone in their struggles and that they can get through this and thrive – that tomorrow will be a better day,” Julie says. “Our son lost hope that he could get better. He felt alone in his struggles. So many young people do. We want to surround them with support so they can see through the pain and persevere.”
There are many challenges starting an organization of this scope from the ground up and it’s become a full-time job for Scott, and their daughters, Aly, 29, and Madeline, 23, support their parent’s mission. It’s a team effort with plenty of room on the team for anyone who wants to get involved and help create such an important organization in the community – our community.
A dear friend of Garrett’s proposed a 24-hour virtual event after they had to shut down in-person fundraisers because of the COVID pandemic. Following the event, there was so much great content that Julie and Scott decided to break it up into different episodes and air it on CTN.
“We broke up the 24-hour footage into highlights that went into 10 episodes,” Julie says. “We thought it would be a nice way for more people to see it and continue to raise awareness of Garrett’s Space.”
Julie has spoken with many parents who have lost a child to suicide and none of them imagined their child would do this, even if they were severely struggling. It’s impossible to fathom. Julie and Scott want Garrett’s Space to be something the entire community can wrap its arms around.
“To know we are helping others does provide a measure of comfort,” Julie says. “It will never stem the tide of grief we feel daily. But we are very much buoyed by all the incredible people who have joined us in our journey to create Garrett’s Space. They help us put one foot in front of the other and channel our grief in a productive way. And parents are constantly reaching out to us, begging for Garrett’s Space to open, so we know we are on to something that the community desperately needs.”
To donate, volunteer or support Garrett’s Space, click HERE
There are four episodes remaining in the 10 part series on CTN that will premiere each Sunday at 7 p.m. from Jan. 17 through Feb. 7 and replay the following Saturday at 10 a.m. Click HERE for the Public Access (Comcast Channel 17) programming schedule for upcoming shows.