Ian Miskelley's family is hoping to raise awareness for mental health through Be Better;. Courtesy of Jill Miskelley. Buy this photo.

I’m sitting in a car, the windows down. A nice lake breeze and the beach a few feet away remind me of home. When the phone rings, I take a deep breath. My high school physics teacher is calling.

Almost a year ago her son, Ian Miskelley, passed away. Ian swam at Michigan for two years and won four state championships in high school.

Ian struggled his whole life with anxiety and depression, familiarizing the family with the mental health system of both West Michigan and the University of Michigan. At the University, Ian had the help of the athletic department and his family to make sure he got the care he needed, but the same can’t be said for his time in West Michigan.

So, soon after he passed, Jill and Steve Miskelley founded Be Better;, a nonprofit based in Holland, Mich., that focuses on two different aspects of mental health.

“We wanted to do something in Ian’s name, we just weren’t sure what it was gonna be,” Jill Miskelley told The Daily. “Then the more I thought about it, talked about it, we wanted to focus on the treatment side of mental health, not so much the awareness.”

The first area of focus is based around building communities for teenagers, young adults and grieving parents via a network of support groups.

“We want this to be a place for kids to hang out because a lot of kids we talk to — I know for Ian it was the same — was he had his friends, his team, but it was also really good to have a group of friends that knew what he was talking about,” Jill Miskelley said. “That could understand what it’s like to have real bad anxiety, depression, borderline personality. Somebody else that he didn’t feel like he was constantly burdening his roommates or his best friends. We’re trying to make a community like that and a safe place for everybody to be.”

These support groups are going to be led by counselors from Mosaic counseling, an outpatient therapy group based out of Grand Haven, Mich. For now, the groups will be confined to 15 people due to space constraints, but as the foundation’s ultimate goal means having its own building, those sizes seem bound to grow.

While the support groups will be a way for people to discuss their problems, they also offer an avenue for counselors to lend their support. Should they see someone struggling with their problems, the counselors may work with the individual to find more care.

The second area of mental health treatment that Be Better; is focusing on is to connect the aspects of treatment. Rather than being a game of telephone where a prospective patient is passed from one service to another, Be Better; aims to put one in touch with the help they need.

“Steve (Miskelley) calls it ‘one-stop shopping.’ You walk in and we got you, we can get you through the whole system,” Jill Miskelley said. “Even if that means we call the Ottawa County Crisis Line, because we’re also in contact with them, and then they come and get you or we bring you to the hospital. Or we get ahold of an inpatient or outpatient service, or we get ahold of a different counselor or therapist because maybe yours isn’t working. You know what I mean? We want to pull all the resources.”

This area of service offers a glimpse of what they want Be Better; to be, a place where therapy, support and navigation can all occur as one cohesive unit. The Miskelley’s envision a service where a student can take an afternoon off class and get walk-in therapy or family members can show up and ask questions about how to support their children.

West Michigan is a very reserved place, particularly in Holland — mental healthcare there is hard to figure out and even if you get a referral from a hospital, it can be difficult to get an appointment. And while more focus than ever is on mental health, the familiarity and maneuverability of the system lags behind. 

At the University, it can be difficult to find help, too. Even with CAPS and a network of resources, navigating them can be difficult. A nonprofit like Be Better; is attempting to take the stress out of a stressful process.

When a student has to ask for help, they’ll be greeted with open arms and a single point of contact. In a community as large as Michigan’s, a service like that can prove the difference between a positive and negative experience.

Managing Sports Editor Kent Schwartz can be reached at @nottherealkent