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Tyler Hilinki

Ex-WSU QB's family works to reduce mental illness stigma after his suicide

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By STEVE McCARRON, KOMO

SEATTLE (KOMO) - The family of former Washington State University quarterback Tyler Hilinski is working to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

Their efforts come just four months after Hilinski died from suicide.

Hilinski's mother Kym and older brother Kelly both now wear several elastic bands around their wrists.

There's a story behind each one.

"We just wear them," Kym Hilinski said.

"'Cause he's our Superman," Kelly Hilinski added.

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Their hero proudly wore #3 on his chest and back every time he stepped onto a football field.

That number serves as a constant reminder that he's always close.

"We get signs all the time. There are 3s everywhere. And I think that’s Tyler telling us, ‘I’m okay, Momma. I’m watching out for you and my brothers and my friends.’" Kym Hilinski said. "Having it on the band is another reminder, too, that he is always with me."

Those messages and an outpouring of support from around the world have helped guide Hilinski's family through an incredibly difficult journey ever since Tyler died of suicide in January.

This week they’re traveling the state to say thank you to those who sent cards, flowers and messages of support.

"I keep using words like 'awe' and 'unbelievable.' It’s the truth. I’m in awe. I’m a little in shock about how many people have reached out to us," Kym Hilinski said. "I don’t really think the people realize how much they’ve helped us. And we’re miserable and sad and I miss him so much. Just hearing people’s stories. They’re strengths that they give to us from their love."

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"We’ve had our time to grieve and we take our time to grieve, but at the same time we need to put that aside and do what he would want us to do and prevent this from happening to another family," Kelly Hilinski added.

This website just went live on Wednesday for Hilinski’s Hope, a foundation his family created in his honor.

The more people who pick up a Hilinski's Hope wristband and hear Hilinski's story, the more his family hopes to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. The foundation will help fund programs that support student-athletes and their mental health and wellness.

"I don’t want people to be afraid to talk about, or embarrassed, or it shouldn’t be a taboo subject," Kym Hilinski said. "We want to erase the stigma associated with mental illness. There shouldn’t be one. It’s a disease and we talk about all other diseases, so why aren’t we talking about mental illness? And the more we talk, the more we share stories, I think the more we do erase that stigma or people will reach out for help."

"The more research we do and the more people we talk to, we realize that this is not just a college level or applicable...it’s applicable to everyone," Kelly Hilinski said.

They hope Hilinski would be proud of their efforts to break down the barriers that stood in his way.

This Saturday, Hilinski would have turned 22.

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His mother and older brother plan to hike Mt. Rainier together.

It's something Tyler hoped to do before graduation, they said.

"Just being up there, thinking about him, you know...away from the noise. Just having him in our heart. I think it’s going to be good. I think there might be some healing for us this weekend, yeah," Kym Hilinski said.

There are so many resources that can offer help if you or someone you know is struggling. You can call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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