To honor son’s memory, parents urge Hawaii student-athletes to take mental health seriously

Mark and Kym Hilinski talk about mental health with student athletes, after losing their son to suicide, a quarterback at Washington State University.
Published: Oct. 2, 2022 at 8:41 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 3, 2022 at 12:31 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It’s not easy to talk about suicide, but that’s exactly what one couple does ever since they lost their son ― who had been a quarterback at Washington State University.

Mark and Kym Hilinski give Tyler Talks to honor their son’s memory and help others in the same situation.

They address student athletes across the country to fight the stigma associated with mental health.

“We had no idea that he was struggling with his mental health, so we think he just suffered in silence. And because of the stigma attached to mental illness, which runs so strong for student athletes, he didn’t reach out and ask for help. And we lost him to suicide January 16, 2018,” Kym said.

Last week, the Hilinskis talked to about 500 student athletes at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“There were a lot of tears that were shared, but a lot of hope, and words of strength too,” she said.

The Hilinskis say suicide prevention starts with an open line of communication.

“The kids are feeling like, they can’t express themselves in this way, because they look weak on the field, they have to be strong. And they have to give 100%,” said Mark.

“There should be no shame if you have to deal with your mental health away from the field, that shouldn’t be looked at as a weakness. We haven’t lost a lot of kids to ACL tears, right, but we’re losing kids to suicide, when their mental health needs aren’t addressed.”

“It was really raw, I was obviously emotional,” said Libby Gault, a UH senior who plays for the water polo team. She says the Tyler Talk is part of a push in recent years to focus on students’ mental health.

“There’s a lot of pressure, there’s a lot of falling behind in some sense, because the time management is just that much harder,” she said.

“One of the most common things is like performance anxiety, or just dealing with the feeling of inadequacy and I think understanding that something tragic doesn’t have to happen in your life to seek help.”

It’s exactly the lesson the Hilinskis want to teach young people.

“I think that that relatability to Tyler really helps the athletes know that they do not need a crisis to reach out and ask for help. And if they are struggling, if they’re having anxiety, or depression or suicidal thoughts, that they need to realize that it is not a weakness, to reach out,” Kym said.

October is National Depression and Health Screening Month. If you or someone you know needs help, call 988 to speak to a counselor — or use the chat function at