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A Father Speaks Out After His Son, A Michigan Swimmer, Takes His Own Life

Trigger Warning: Suicide

In Canada, September is the Canadian Mental Health Association’s suicide prevention month. So as a Canadian, this story is a little extra sad to me because it took place in September. Of course, the message of suicide awareness and prevention is important in any month of the year. That’s why Steve Miskelley is speaking out about the tragic loss of his son, Ian. (1)

Ian Miskelley’s Legacy

Ian Miskelley was 19 years old. In high school, Holland Christian High School, he won four state championships. He’d just started university at Michigan State. On Sept 7th, 2020, he died by suicide.

Though he hadn’t been at Michigan State very long, he made an impact. “When his teammates needed something, they could go to Ian,” says his university swim coach, Mike Bottom. “He would always drop whatever he’s got going on and get it done. It’s just really important that people take from this a real understanding that you’ve gotta appreciate people every day for who they are. You might not have that chance again.”

“I can’t tell you how many teammates told us how much Ian was there for them,” says Ian’s father, Steve Miskelley. “We are finding out what his legacy really is. He internalized a lot, but he was always looking out for the little guy.” (1, 2)

Ian’s Father Speaks On His Suicide

This is not sadness, this is a disease. And it isn’t a rational disease,” says Steve. “It can happen to anyone. That is the stigma that we have to break.” For Steve, the problem is clear: “People constantly equate sadness and depression, and those are not the same thing. People wonder what you have to be depressed about when you have so much going for you, but that is not what this is.”

Unfortunately, Ian was one of those people. Despite being depressed and struggling with anger since he was 11, he “struggled with separating that because he was thankful for everything he had,” says Ian’s mother, Jill. “He knew what he had and he wondered why he couldn’t be happy.”

“This impresses me now even more than before, but his self-awareness about this . . . He was incredibly self-aware and determined to fix this.” (1)

Michigan’s Suicide Response 

“There is no playbook for something this tragic. As soon as we found out that Ian had taken his life, we were obviously devastated,” says Coach Bottom. “We got to the house as quickly as possible and there were members of our administration there and a counselor. The way the university responded was so supportive and helped us . . . We needed to get the team together, and they offered up the baseball stadium for us to get together and talk.” 

Steve agrees. “The University of Michigan has been phenomenal throughout all of this, and I don’t just mean this. Since Day 1,” he says, “when he walked onto campus, they got people around Ian and supported him. They had good therapy and help. It is amazing what they did for him and I can’t thank them enough.”

“You just want to be there and say, ‘Hey, we love you, I wish you were here,’” says Bottom. “We don’t have that chance.” (2, 3)

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