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Grieving parents determined to help young adults struggling with mental health

'We want to restore that hope to them,' Halpert said

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Julie and Scott Halpert are on a mission.

"I literally had a friend call me, about a month ago, saying: 'Where do I go? What do I do?  I'm having these thoughts of harming myself and I'm just, I'm just, I don't know what to do,'" Scott Halpert said.

It's a situation the Halperts don't want anyone to experience.

It's why Scott Halpert and other volunteers fanned out across Ann Arbor on a recent morning with door tags offering hope.

"This has information about what are your options when you're in a crisis. Where is everything physically? Who do I call? It's important to have these things basically at your fingertips," Halpert said.

The mission is personal.

"He was just an amazing kid. He was a wonderful son. Just loved being around him,"  Halpert said.

Garrett Halpert was Julie and Scott Halpert's middle child and only son.

"He was incredibly kind. He had the purest of souls, just a truly good person who always wanted to help other people," Julie Halpert said.

Garrett Halper's childhood photos are filled with happy memories. Tennis was one of his many talents.

"He was a tremendous athlete," said Scott Halpert. "He holds the record for most wins at No. 1 singles at Pioneer Tennis."

But even as a young child, Garrett Halpert had depression.

"He really had so much going for him, but he still struggled from time to time, and he was hard on himself," Scott Halpert said.

"We intervened quickly. We tried to get him the help he needed, and then he seemed to be doing better," Julie Halpert said.

Garrett Halpert periodically saw a therapist, but in high school, he faced new challenges.

"As a teenager, we never really would have guessed his struggles were so deep," Scott Halpert said.

In spite of those struggles, Garrett Halpert went off to college and, after graduation, got a job in Washington, D.C. But his excitement soon faded.

"His first serious relationship had ended, and we didn't realize the toll that it took on him," Julie Halpert said.

Garrett Halpert came home to Ann Arbor, and his parents struggled to help him. It was complicated because he was no longer a minor, and they didn't want to risk alienating him.

"You feel absolutely powerless, like you're watching somebody about to go off a cliff, and you can't stop them," Julie Halpert said.

"We just were racking our brains for, well, what could he do other than see his therapist or go to the psych ER, which he told us he did not want to do?" said Scott Halpert.

They desperately searched for other options.

"You realize you're losing him, and you don't know how  to help him at that point. It's awful," said Scott Halpert.

"We were getting him help and trying to intervene as best we could.  But within, like, a week of spiraling downward, he took his life," said Julie Halpert.  "It was the worst thing ever. We never could've imagined that would've happened, even in his most desperate moment."

Garrett Halpert was just 23 years old.

"It's the worst feeling you could ever have in your entire life," said Julie Halpert.  "He felt like there was no hope for him, and I know a lot of other young adults feel that way, and, we want to restore that hope to them."

That desire has resulted in Garrett's Space, a nonprofit organization working to prevent suicide, especially in young adults.

"It's a troubled world we're living in. It's a polarized world. It's a complicated world. We really want to lay the seeds or set the foundation for teaching young adults who are struggling the skills needed to cope, be resilient and thrive in a very troubled world," said Julie Halpert.

They plan to build a residential center focused on people age 18 to 28.

"They're not minors," explained Julie Halpert.  "That's one of the many reasons why we're focusing on this is that you have so little control."

They want it to be a retreat that's affordable and offers something they couldn't find.

"We need something that would've appealed to our son. Something different, another option for people who are struggling," explained Scott Halpert.

"We envision a place set in nature that's serene and tranquil," said Julie Halpert. "A retreat that allows people to feel supported, that connects them with their peers.  We feel like that's a huge part of it, seeing that your peers are going through the same things as you. We want to have meditation, yoga, journaling, art, music, exercise. Of course, we'll have traditional therapy, and we'll have a medical director who will oversee medication."

They want to foster connections and address the issue of relationships.

"We want to focus on coping strategies for that and kind of normalizing relationship issues, which I think is a big issue for young adults and adolescents," said Scott Halpert.

They also want to have support for families.

"We felt lost. I know many other families that feel the same way," said Julie Halpert. "And we really want to have that be an integral focus of this."

While a Garrett's Space retreat is still at least three years away, they're working to start offering programming soon and spreading the message of hope, starting with those doortags.   They plan to distribute 25,000 to start in both Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.  They hope eventually to distribute them throughout Washtenaw County.

"If anybody wants to volunteer, we'd love their assistance," said Julie Halpert.

The resounding message the Halperts want to share is that there is help and there is hope.  

"We're trying to make certain that other people are informed and have more options than we had," said Julie Halpert.

Building a legacy for their son who always wanted to help others.

"I feel like he's with us in spirit and he's cheering us on," said Julie Halpert.

"I know he'd be happy, and he is happy watching over us," said Scott Halpert.

To learn more about Garrett's Space, click here.  To volunteer to help distribute door tags, click here.

If you are thinking of hurting yourself, reach out to someone. There are people who will listen and help.

  • Emergency -- Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
  • Washtenaw County 24/7 Mobile Crisis Team Intervention & CARES Team 734-544-3050.
  • Ozone House 24/7 Crisis Line for Teens and Young Adults, click here. 734-662-2222.
  • Call or text someone you know.
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline has a 24/7 Call & Online Chat, click here, or call 800-273-8255.
  • The Trevor Project has a 24/7 Crisis Line for young LGBTQ People, click here, or call  866-488-7386.
  • Trans Lifeline Peer Support Hotline for Trans People contact at 877-565-8860, available 10 a.m. to 4 a.m. EST.
  • Crisis Text Line offers 24/7 crisis counseling just text HOME to 741741.
  • To learn more about local mental health resources in other counties, click here.