SLOAN COLUMN: Hilinskis carry a message of hope
Mark and Kym Hilinski are on mission. That mission is to educate, advocate, and eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness. Earlier this month they brought that message to Francis Marion University.
The Hilinskis are tragically familiar with the dangers of depression and related mental illnesses. In front a large, attentive crowd at Smith University Center, the couple shared the story of their late son, Tyler.
Tyler Hilinski was a rising star in college football, playing quarterback for the Washington State University Cougars. He worked his way up from his role as a backup to starting for the Cougars in the 2017 Holiday Bowl. The then 20-year junior completed 39 of 50 passes for 272 yards and tossed a pair of touchdowns, but Washington State was no match for Michigan State in a 42-17 loss.
A shining personality on and off the field, Hilinski was poised to take over quarterbacking duties for soon to be NFL draft pick Luke Falk in 2018. Life was good in the Hilinski household.
Three short weeks after the Holiday Bowl, all that changed. Tyler was found dead in his apartment from an apparent suicide. Doctors later said Tyler suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy as a result of repeated head injures.
Shortly after Tyler’s death, the Hilinksi’s created the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation (H3H).
“There’s nothing at 21 that can’t be solved better than suicide,” Mark Hilinski told students and others in the crowd. “If you have problems, talk to someone about them.”
“You shouldn’t be embarrassed or afraid to start a conversation about mental health,” Kym Hilinski added.”Tell the person that thinks that maybe a family or a friend is struggling -- speak up. You know, talk, share, don’t be afraid. You’re so worth it and you’re so loved. You matter so much to everybody in your life that you have to take care of your mental health.”
Mark shared some alarming statistics. According to the NCAA, he said, 15 to 20 percent of student-athletes will suffer from an episode of depression at some point in their lifetime. It is among the most common condition a sports psychiatrist will treat.
The Hilinskis said they will continue to tour college campuses and share their son’s story in hopes of preventing another young person from ending their life.
“It’s been really special to see college campuses nationwide come together and support mental health in collegiate athletics,” said Mark “The discussions that continue to take place across athletic departments are so crucial for student-athletes, and we know Tyler would be so proud of the progress we’ve made, but there is still more work to be done.”
Through their speaking circuit, Mark and Kym have found the majority of the young people who died were not student-athletes, so they expanded Hilinski’s Hope to reach all young people.
“Young people from 18 to 25 seemingly can be happy, content, have money, have friends, have something they really are passionate about, and still die by suicide,” said Mark. “In fact, the part that always gets us is a lot of the people that talk about their kids that died, just saw them last night, just saw him last week, he was excited about tomorrow.”
To learn more or get involved with MH3H, visit www.hilinskishope.org/ 3day