Family hoping to erase depression stigma after loss of college athlete son

State Champion swimmer attended University of Michigan
Posted at 11:53 PM, Oct 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-18 23:53:58-04

HOLLAND, Mich. — At the age of 11, Ian Miskelley showed what many would consider unthinkable self-awareness when he told his father that something just wasn’t right, saying he felt angry all the time.

“What do we have to do? Let’s get you some help buddy," said his father Steve. It was about two years later when Ian was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. Ian was started on a regimen of medications and met with a psychiatrist on a regular basis. “It was a battle every day”, Steve explained to Fox 17.

Despite that battle, Ian was competing in the swimming pool and winning big time for the Holland Christian High School team. He made an Olympic trial cut at the age of 16 and won multiple state championships.

But, according to his family, Ian didn’t take much time to soak in all of his success. “It was always, ‘What’s the next step? What can I achieve now?’” explains Ian’s sister Chelsea.

But looking back, they think they know why their son and brother pushed himself so hard, says Steve. “Where we ultimately landed on this is, he’d get up at 5:30 in the morning and go to swim practice and work hard, because it gave him a reprieve for two hours from the demons in his head,” Steve told FOX 17.

Chelsea explained, “You can appear to be happy and successful to anybody, but that doesn’t mean you’re not depressed. When we think of depression, we think of someone who can’t get out of bed.”

In the summer of 2018, Ian went to the University of Michigan on a swimming scholarship. His family said the school was clearly the right choice, with the resources the U of M provided for Ian’s mental health needs and its proximity to the family home in Holland was also helpful so they could travel to Ann Arbor quickly if things ever went wrong.

Ian continued to thrive by making the Academic All-Conference team while swimming for the Wolverines, success after success while at the same time always trying to help out the underdog. “He was so selfless, it was easy for him to look out for other people,"his sister Chelsea told us.

Once the COVID restrictions were lifted and Ian was allowed to return to Ann Arbor to be with his swim team this summer, the family hoped he maybe had made progress in his battle with depression. “Maybe he’s turning the corner on this, maybe he’s getting better at managing it," Steve remembered. "Maybe this time will be what he needed. And I think, he was just getting better at hiding (the depression)."

In early September, just short of his 20th birthday, Ian took his own life.

The family told us that while they didn’t get enough time with their wonderful son and brother, they also know the time they had with him could have been shorter. “If he wasn’t able to talk about it and wasn’t able to battle through this for so long, we would have lost him earlier” explained Ian’s mother Jill.

"If there is anything I want people to take out of this, don’t be afraid to speak out," Steve added. "We’ve got this stigma; (depression is) not something to be ashamed of. This is not a failure on anybody’s part. This is a disease. We just need more compassion and support and less judgment.”

For anyone who would like to help, the family says people can give to the Ian Miskelley Fund at the Community Foundation of Holland-Zeeland. Or call the foundation directly at 616-396-6590. The money will be used to help others in similar battles. The family is also working on the Ian Miskelley Strength Event on Saturday, November 20. Interested parties can sign up here. Anyone who needs help with depression or is thinking about suicide, call 800-273-8255.