ANN ARBOUR, Mich. – It’s been a heartbreaking five years since Julie and Scott Halpert of Ann Arbor lost their beloved son Garrett to suicide. Through their grief, the Halperts have worked tirelessly to make sure other young people get the kind of help they wish Garrett could have.
“When we came up with this idea, we hoped it would help us the way we wanted,” Julie Halpert said. “But we really, we’ve seen that vision unfold with those bands.” That vision is Garrett’s Space, an organization dedicated to filling gaps in the treatment of young adults struggling with mental health issues.
“We’re really trying to help young adults who feel like there’s no one in their life who understands what’s going on with them,” Scott Halpert said. This includes weekly peer support groups that come together virtually for conversation and movement activity.
“Just being able to have your voice heard when you share what you’re going through with people who understand you has a huge impact, and it’s great to see these participants grow over the course of their program,” said Nick Brdar, a group leader with Garrett’s Space.
Topics of conversation range from general anxiety and depression to everyday stressors. “We’ve often talked about the lack of spaces where we can have these open conversations,” Brdar said. “Many of these people live or have lived with suicidal thoughts. And it’s not really something that we talk about in our daily conversations or feel comfortable talking about. So just providing a space for these young adults to talk openly about it with people who understand has been really important to them.
Brdar says social media pressures are also a focus. “We talk a lot about how everyone looks their best on social media. Nobody posts when they’re feeling sad, anxious or isolated,” Brdar said. “I see it weighing on people, feeling even more isolated because they compare themselves to the people they see online. And, again, in reality, none of us live these perfect lives all the time, no matter where you are with your sanity.
The peer support group program is growing, but the Halperts say the need is just as great. A December 2021 Harris Polling Group nationwide survey of more than 1,700 people between the ages of 18 and 24 found that 70% said they had moderate to severe depression.
“We are currently in crisis. Even coming out of Covid, post-Covid, we constantly get calls from parents whose children are either in dire straits or have died by suicide,” Julie Halpert said. “We are on the front line of this, which as a parent who has lost someone to suicide is often very hard to hear. But it also confirms to us that there is not enough treatment and support out there and that we can provide that kind of support quickly. It warms our hearts to give us a way out of our grief and loss.
The larger goal of Garrett’s Space is to build a holistic residential retreat. “We want it to be a place where young adults can really breathe,” said Julie Halpert. “Young adults, ages 18 to 28, will be able to come to this place for stays of two to three weeks and just focus on healing. We’ll give them all kinds of healing strategies, from yoga, to music, to dancing, to healthy cooking, because we believe there’s a very strong mind-body connection.
They hope the retreat can become a model for others. “We hope it will be a place that will not only be here, but can be everywhere,” said Julie Halpert. A place that would have seduced their son and so many others like him. “Garrett at the very end, felt alone. He didn’t have anyone who could relate to what he was going through. That’s what we’re trying to create,” Scott Halpert said.
“Young adults who are often reluctant to seek treatment, young adults who often feel like they are losing hope and nothing will make them feel better, that maybe it will create that glimmer of hope and opportunity , and they’ll be ready to try it, and it could help save their lives,” said Julie Halpert.
Garrett’s Space will host its third annual Go24forGarrett’sSpace, a 24-hour live virtual fundraiser beginning Sunday, September 11 at 11:00 a.m. The event will feature celebrity guests and artists, inspirational speakers, and fitness and meditation classes. To view the lineup and find the live stream, click here.
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