EARLY YEARS: Hilinski’s Hope Foundation raising awareness about student athlete mental health

JMU is one of more than 155 colleges and universities taking part in awareness activities this week
The parents of football star Tyler Hilinski are working to raise awareness about mental health struggles among student athletes
Published: Oct. 4, 2023 at 5:49 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) -Athletics are a huge part of Mark and Kym Hilinski’s family.

All three of their sons played college football.

On the surface, their middle son, Tyler was thriving.

“Tyler in particular was so well-liked, always on the upbeat and positive side of things,” says Mark Hilinski, Tyler’s dad.

Sadly, Tyler, a football player at Washington State University, died by suicide in January of 2018.

Nearly six years later, his family still doesn’t know why.

“And we do think it could have been that stigma that’s attached to mental illness and it runs so strong for student athletes. They’re taught from a very early age how to grind through a tough practice even an injury. You can’t grind through a mental health struggle, and I think they may have been something that Tyler was embarrassed about, maybe he was ashamed or maybe he didn’t even know he was struggling, says Tyler’s mom, Kym Hilinski.

A month after Tyler’s death, Mark and Kim started the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation, sharing their story with college athletes across the country, in what they call “Tyler Talks”.

“We thought if our Tyler, who was loved and doted on by so many people was struggling and couldn’t reach out for help, how many other Tylers, how many other student-athletes are out there struggling and suffering in silence and maybe don’t know how to ask for help,” says Kym Hilinkski.

As part of this Student Athlete Mental Health Week, the Hilinski’s put together what they call “boxes of hope”.

“It’s lapel pins for the coaches, decals, for the players, cheer ribbons, hair ties, our Hilinksi’s Hope wristbands and we mail them to college, universities, high schools, even club teams across the country,” says Kym Hilinski.

She says it’s how they continue to show their love for Tyler, and let other young people know it’s okay to ask for help.

“It’s very difficult to stand up and say look, I can’t handle this on my own. I need some help. And there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Mark Hilinski.

If you’d like your son or daughter, or their athletic team to join Hilinski’s Hope, here’s the link to more information, or contact the Hilinski’s here.

You can listen to our full conversation in our latest “Early Years” podcast here.