EVERETT — Shock and grief from the suicide of a Washington State University quarterback have rippled into Snohomish County.
Social media was awash in news of the death and pleas for those who struggle with suicidal thoughts to seek help.
Tyler Hilinski played in eight games for the Cougars and was the presumed starter next season, which would have been his junior year. In the Cougars’ game against Boise State, he was carried off the field after he helped rally the team for a triple overtime victory.
He was found dead in his apartment in Pullman on Tuesday.
The 21-year-old’s death is a reminder that anyone might be battling mental health issues, said Heather Thomas, spokeswoman for the Snohomish Health District.
“Any life lost to suicide is one too many, and that is why suicide prevention is one of the efforts that we have staff focused on,” she said. “These higher profile cases just reinforce that no one’s immune to having depression or having suicidal thoughts, and it’s really up to all of us to pay attention and connect people to resources.”
In recent years, Snohomish County has seen high numbers of suicides among young people. Multiple student deaths have rocked local schools and communities, including Marysville, Stanwood and Mukilteo.
Data from the 2016 Healthy Youth Survey showed the percentage of local high school seniors who had thought about suicide enough to make a plan had nearly doubled in a decade, reaching 17.5 percent. Roughly one in 10 Snohomish County seniors, sophomores and eighth-graders said they had attempted to take their own lives. Even as young as sixth grade, nearly 5 percent of survey participants said they had attempted suicide.
Overall, the survey found that a growing number of young people had seriously considered killing themselves.
Suicide is an uncomfortable topic, Thomas said. But talking about it is crucial.
“We’re always trying to remind people: When in doubt, just ask,” she said. “Having conversations with loved ones doesn’t put the idea of suicide in their head. Research actually shows it helps prevent suicide.”
It’s important to make sure friends and family know they have someone to turn to. Thomas encourages people to keep handy the numbers or web addresses for help lines if they or someone else needs to talk. People also can sign up for Mental Health First Aid classes to learn more about suicide prevention. Compass Health in Everett has classes coming up this month and next.
Hilinski’s death is a tragedy, said Pat Morris, senior director of behavioral health at Volunteers of America Western Washington. She first saw the news on social media Tuesday night.
The immediacy of social media in notifying people can be a blessing and curse, Morris said. It offers a venue for people to share resources and offer support and condolences. It also creates situations where people are alone when they pick up their phones and see a piece of devastating news.
Anyone who knew of Hilinski or has ties to the university likely felt the emotional effect of the loss, even if they didn’t know Hilinski personally, Morris said.
“Even if you’re two steps removed from somebody who ended their life by suicide, it’s going to engender an emotional reaction, and that’s normal,” Morris said. “I don’t want people to think that’s something they have to handle on their own. You don’t have to be by yourself.”
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are resources for people struggling with suicidal thoughts or other mental health concerns. Among them are phone and online chat services. They are free and confidential.