In 2018, one of the worst stories imaginable shook the WSU sports community. On January 16, Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Pullman apartment.
That news was tough for anybody to hear, but it’s impossible to imagine what Hilinski’s family went through after that terrible day. In the four-plus years since that tragedy, Tyler’s parents Mark and Kym Hilinski have done everything possible to try and turn their heartbreak into a movement that spreads an important message far and wide.
“I think we kind of felt like, if this can happen to Tyler, it can happen to anybody.”
Those are the words of Mark Hilinski who, along with his wife Kym, joined the Today Show on NBC to talk about mental health. The pair were joined by the parents of three other student-athletes that lost their loved ones to suicide.
“There weren’t really any verbal signs from Tyler to us or to anybody at Washington State that he was suffering,” Kym Hilinski told NBC’s Stephanie Gosk.
The Hilinski family sat alongside the parents of Stanford soccer player Katie Meyer, Southern University cheerleader Arlana Miller and Duke lacrosse player Morgan Rodgers. All four families have taken important steps to try and spread the word about mental health awareness.
“We have to make something good come out of this,” said Gina Meyer “We’re going to be the ones to step up, we’re going to be the ones to make some changes.”
Suicide has been a particularly major issue to people between the ages of 10 and 34. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is now the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34. A major reason for that is the prevalence of social media, and that impact is exponentially greater on student-athletes who are front and center in the public eye week in and week out.
“I think perfectionism is part of what all of our children possess,” said Kym Hilinski in her NBC interview. “They’re judged so much [on social media] and there are a lot of negative comments.”
“Out kids told us not to read it,” continued Mark Hilinski. “They were absolutely keeping score.”
“Their brain betrayed them and they chose what was a permanent solution to what really is a temporary problem in a 21-year-olds life,” said Kym Hilinski.
You probably already know about Hilinski’s Hope, the foundation Mark and Kym started to educate people about the growing mental health issue in America. This year they’re continuing their Mental Health Week initiative, partnering with football programs across the country to provide helmet decals for teams to wear during the week of October 2.You can find more information about Hilinski’s Hope here.
Two of the other families have also started foundations to try and spread awareness about mental health. Morgan’s Message wants to honor Morgan Rodgers by “expanding the dialogue on mental health by normalizing conversations.” The Meyer family has also started Katie’s Save, advocating for a university policy that requires schools to send an email to a parent or ally if the student is hospitalized for a physical injury, is prescribed medication by a mental health professional or has been placed on academic probation.
You can see more of the interview with these four families, along with the NBC article, below.
Families of College Students Who Died By Suicide Give Back
Families with a shared nightmare — the death of their college students through suicide — hope their stories can prevent more loss.
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Colton Johnsen (3000m steeplechase), Jacob Englar (pole vault), and Mitch Jacobson (high jump) will represent the men's @WSUCougarXCTF team!— Washington State Athletics (@WSUCougars) May 31, 2022
Way to go, Cougs! (2/2) pic.twitter.com/vqUJiEDAXa