ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It’s been five heart-wrenching 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 type of help they wish Garrett could have.
“When we came up with this idea, we hoped that it would help in the way that we wanted it to,” said Julie Halpert. “But we really, we saw that vision unfold with these groups.” That vision is Garrett’s Space, an organization dedicated to filling the gaps in treatment for young adults struggling with mental health challenges.
“We’re really trying to help young adults who feel like there’s nobody in their lives who gets what’s going on with them,” said Scott Halpert. That includes weekly peer support groups that meet virtually for conversation and a movement activity.
“There’s a huge impact of just being able to be heard when you’re sharing what you’re going through with people that understand, and it’s been great to see these participants grow over the course of their program,” said Nick Brdar, a group facilitator with Garrett’s Space.
Topics of conversation range from general anxiety and depression to everyday stressors. “A lot of time we talked about the lack of spaces we can have these open conversations,” said Brdar. “A lot of these people are living with or have lived with suicidal thoughts. And that’s not really something we talk about in our everyday conversations or feel comfortable talking about. So just providing a space for those young adults to be able to talk about that openly with people who understand has been really important for them.”
Brdar says the pressures of social media are also a focus. “We talk a lot about how everyone presents their best self on social media. No one is posting when they’re feeling sad or anxious or isolated,” said Brdar. “I see it weighing down on people, feeling even more isolated because they’re comparing themselves to people they see online. And, again, in reality, none of us are living these perfect lives all the time regardless of where you are with your mental health.”
The peer support group program is growing, but the Halperts say, so is the need. A national survey by the Harris Polling Group taken in December 2021 of over 1,700 people age 18 to 24 years old found that 70 percent reported having moderate to severe depression.
“We’re in a crisis right now. Even coming out of Covid, post-Covid, we are constantly getting calls from parents whose children are either struggling severely or they’ve died by suicide,” said Julie Halpert. “We’re on the frontlines of that, which as a parent who’s lost someone to suicide, is often really hard to hear. But it also reinforces to us that there’s not enough treatment and support out there and that we can quickly provide this type of support. It’s heartwarming to us to give us a way forward from our grief and from our loss.”
The larger goal of Garrett’s Space is to build a holistic residential retreat. “We want this to be a place where young adults can really just exhale,” said Julie Halpert. “Young adults, 18 to 28, will be able to go to this place for two to three week stays and just focus on healing. We’ll be giving them all kinds of strategies on healing, everything from yoga to music, to dance, to healthy cooking, because we feel there’s a very strong mind-body connection.”
They hope the retreat can become a model for others. “We hope that this will be a place that can be not just here, but can be all over the place,” said Julie Halpert. A place that would have appealed to their son and so many like him. “Garrett at the very end, felt alone. He didn’t have anybody who could relate to what he was going through. That’s what we’re trying to create,” said Scott Halpert.
“Young adults who are often resistant to getting treatment, young adults who often feel like they’re losing hope and there’s nothing that will make them feel better, that it will maybe create that sliver of hope and opportunity, and they’ll be willing to try it. And that might help to help save their life,” said Julie Halpert.
Garrett’s Space will be holding their third annual Go24forGarrett’sSpace, a virtual 24-hour live stream fundraiser starting Sunday, September 11th at 11:00 am. The event will feature celebrity guests and performers, inspirational speakers, and fitness and meditation classes. To see the lineup and find the live stream, click here.