Susan Crooks remembers the moment she decided to take the steps to start a movement to end the stigma around mental health conditions.
“My son Walt died from treatment-resistant anxiety and depression after a 20-year struggle — so he died by suicide,” she says. Walt was 35.
“Two days after Walt died, I really didn’t know if I could make it,” Crooks recalls. Now, she is president and founder of Walt’s Waltz, a Greenville-based organization working to raise awareness around mental health conditions through education.
Susan says her son Will Crooks, 29, told her they’d start something, “even if we only saved one life.”
Three weeks after Walt’s death, Susan had already contacted the University of South Carolina Law Clinic to start organizing a nonprofit organization. Other local universities like Clemson University and Furman University also assisted. Walt’s Waltz became official a few months later, named after Walt’s favorite time signature of 3/4 time — meaning there are three beats per measure — and the dance most associated with it.
“It seemed as if everybody we spoke to knew someone who had died by suicide, was living with a mental health condition themselves or had a family member who was living with a mental health condition,” Susan says.
Since then, Walt’s Waltz has trained more than 200 people in mental health first aid. And just like there are three beats per measure in a waltz, Susan Crooks and her team focus on three elements:
- Creating safe spaces to openly discuss our mental health.
- Encourage the use of screenings to better understand the stages of severity.
- Eliminating the stigma around those with a mental health condition.
“A lot of the framework is to try to treat the mental health space, similar to how we treat the physical health space,” Will says. “And they’re really one and the same in any practical sense, but we don’t necessarily apply that.”
He adds that many people don’t even seek treatment.
“What we’re looking to do is really be a megaphone and a compass,” he explains.
Since launching last year, Walt’s Waltz has worked locally and across the country to deliver training on mental health conditions. One program is with NAMI Greenville, the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, to create a safe space discussion every third Friday of each month. Another program involves teachers getting professional development hours through the organization’s training. Many of the programs are free.
“We do want people to have hope,” says Susan. “Seeking professional help is the first step.”
If you’re having thoughts of suicide contact the Suicide Lifeline 800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.