In the wake of Tyler Hilinski’s tragic death, to anyone struggling with depression or feelings of suicide: you are not alone and help is out there.
Tyler Hilinski was the Washington State backup quarterback who impressed coaches during his time as a redshirt sophomore. He came off the bench during the second week of the 2017 season to lead his team back from a 21-point deficit and win in triple overtime against Boise State. Hilinski was on the path to becoming next year’s starter under center for the Cougars. He had two brothers who also played quarterback: Kelly, a med school student at Weber State (a torn rotator cuff ended his football career), and Ryan, a rising senior at Orange Lutheran HS who currently has 17 NCAA scholarship offers. Tyler Hilinski parents’ would take turns making the weekend trip to Pullman to watch their son play the family game. On January 16, at age 21, Tyler Hilinski died by suicide.
In the world of sports, where we celebrate the human body’s strength and vitality, death can seem so unnatural a concept. Yet athletes, for all their accomplishments and abilities, are no more immune to disease of the body and mind than those who watch from the sidelines. Suicide is a subject with which Western civilization has struggled for centuries, to the point where the default reaction is a short sentence or two offering condolences followed by silence. But to treat suicide as taboo or an off-limits subject only further ostracizes those people who feel hopeless or isolated. Our grief and sympathy for the Hilinski family and the entire Washington State community rest heavy in our hearts. But the sadness we feel for a young man, his family, his friends and his teammates also needs to turn into a proactive dialogue about suicide prevention and survivor support.
Brandi Smith, Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor (LPC-S), Clinical Director of Children First Counseling Center in Grand Prairie, Texas, had this to say about those affected by a loved one’s suicide:
“As survivors of suicide embrace their own unique story and find the courage to share it, they will begin to chisel away at the felt sense of shame and isolation and find that they can be comforted, they are not alone, and that there is hope that they will not only survive the tragic loss of their loved one, but will also be able to live with hope once again.”
There are so many resources out there, but the greatest resource we possess is our compassion. Reach out to friends with whom you have not spoken in a while. Include someone in a lunch conversation. Take a genuine interest in the lives of others. As this reporter’s mother (also an LPC-S) remarks often, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
It is too late for Tyler Hilinski, but there is so much hope for those who need kind words, therapy sessions, prescribed medication, support groups or any combination of these and more. All the good things in life are within reach.
If you have experienced or are experiencing emotional distress and thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please reach out to friends and family. If you need confidential support and connections to professionals, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. You can send a text to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 if you are uncomfortable talking on the phone. You can visit the Alexander Health Center on campus and talk to a professional Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you have experienced the suicide of a loved one, you can visit www.allianceofhope.org to connect to fellow survivors and obtain resources to help in the grieving process. In an emergency, dial 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room immediately. If nothing else, please know that I want you to live.