'People need care right now': Parents of late UM swimmer launch plans for mental-wellness center

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
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The parents of late University of Michigan swimmer Ian Miskelley, who died by suicide in September, are moving forward with plans to build a mental-wellness center for youths ages 14-22 in west Michigan.

Steve and Jill Miskelley held what they described as a "launch" meeting Tuesday night in downtown Holland, drawing a standing room-only crowd of nearly 100 and several more watching via Facebook Live.

The Miskelleys laid out their vision for The Ian Miskelley Be Better Mental Wellness Center, which they hope to have up and running, in some capacity, within 18 to 24 months. After the presentation, attendees broke off to brainstorm additional ideas.

"There are a lot of things I don't know," Miskelley told those in attendance. "Help me figure out what I don't know."

Ian Miskelley, a swimmer at Holland Christian and University of Michigan, died by suicide in September.

The center will offer clinical services, with help from Grand Haven-based partner Mosaic Counseling. They will include drop-in availability, support groups for patients, support services for families, counseling and crisis management and support services for families who have lost a loved one to suicide. The center will be designed to offer short-term stays (up to 72 hours), with long-term follow-up treatment. The center's ultimate goal is zero suicides in the community. See the complete plan HERE.

Ian Miskelley's struggles with anxiety and depression began when he was 11. He died by suicide Sept. 7 at age 19.

Steve Miskelley said a big part of the center's mission will be building relationships with patients, a relationship that could and probably should last years, not weeks or months. The plan is for the center to have therapists who will travel to the patients, if need be, while subsidizing the cost for treatment if insurance doesn't cover it all.

Dr. Michael Brashears, who has 25 years experience in behavioral health, has joined the effort and will provide guidance during the center's setup phase.

"I'm quite passionate about this," Brashears said Tuesday night. "I think mental illness and especially suicide has touched every one of us at one point or another."

Brashears said one of the project's key initiatives will be to "fill the gaps" that currently exist in receiving treatment for mental-health issues.

"It can take up to three months on the insurance side of things ... to get an appointment right now," Brashears said. The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated the crisis. "People need care right now. They can't wait three months."

The Miskelleys started the initiative six months ago, the "Be Better" rallying cry coming from the eulogy Steve's brother gave at Ian's funeral. They're early in the fundraising phase, but have collected more than $40,000 from businesses and individual donations. Additional funding help is expected to come from government entities such as Ottawa County, the state of Michigan, and the Community Foundation of Holland Zeeland, as well as the United Way. Be Better has an ally in state Rep. Mary Whiteford, chair of the House's Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, who began her career as a nurse at a children's hospital.

Steve Miskelley also is preparing to make a pitch to potential major donors.

The goal, Miskelley said, is to get into a building as soon as possible to start offering services. Eventually, a ground-up facility is the goal, preferably in his hometown of Holland, where Ian Miskelley was a champion swimmer — winning four state championships and setting two state records for Holland Christian.

The Miskelleys, last week, did secure their first office space, on Ottawa Beach Road in Holland, near the state park. Their website is bebetterholand.com.

"It's gonna start small, we're not gonna be able to eat the whole elephant in one bit," said Miskelley, who brought his message to Metro Detroit last month, speaking at the TeeItUpForAdam.com fundraiser for suicide prevention and suicide awareness. "My five-year goal — if it turns out to be 10, OK — is to build a center, and this center is gonna be like a fire station. I use that analogy because a fire station is located in the center of a community, it's accessible to everybody, it has places to gather, it has places for recreation, it has places for offices, for one-on-one work, it even has beds.

"We want to make this accessible."

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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