‘Everyone loved him’: Utah mother honors son by raising awareness for suicide, mental health

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PROVO (ABC4) – Josh Hansen was known as a “teddy bear.”

“He was the class clown, everyone loved him,” his mother, Stephanie Hansen tells ABC4.com. “He was a bigger guy and he would listen to anybody. He would drop everything and listen to what he could for other people.”

A huge fan of the Utah Jazz, Josh first fell in love with the team by cheering on his favorite player, Carlos Boozer. His appreciation later moved to star guard Deron Williams. In 2017, he – along with the rest of the team’s fanbase – became captivated by the play of rookie superstar Donovan Mitchell.

The Mountain Dew-loving senior at Provo High School was also a deep thinker. Often, he was too deep of a thinker, his mother says.

“He would analyze things and he would worry about things. He was having such a tough time trying to decide what he wanted to do after high school,” Stephanie recalls. “He wanted to get married, he wanted to go to college, he wanted to live away from home, he wanted to make everybody happy. And all of those things combined, I feel like they just really got to him.”

Near the end of the school year, Josh began doing things that his family now realizes were signs of a bigger problem. He began moving money around in his bank account, selling off his belongings, and sleeping for most of the day.

“We were thinking it’s just because he’s a teenager and he’s really tired and he needs extra sleep,” Stephanie remembers. “He had a lot of allergy and asthma issues so we didn’t really think much about it, but now I’m just really thinking there was a lot of anxiety and depression as he was growing up.”

One day in April 2017, Josh wrote a letter to his family to explain the thoughts and feelings that had long been plaguing him and took his own life.

He was 18.

Courtesy of Stephanie Hansen

Years later, Hansen has grown to better understand what happens to cause a person to end their own life. A big help has been gathering with others who have been affected by suicide for an annual march to raise awareness for the issue. This year’s “Walk 4 Hope” is scheduled to begin on Sept. 25 at 9 a.m. at Timpanogos Elementary. The group will wave banners, hold photos of loved ones, and create a presence by walking down Freedom Boulevard, across Cougar Boulevard, and up University Avenue as a way to heal and inspire a larger conversation about suicide. Hansen will represent her son’s memory as a member of “Team Josh,” which includes the entire Hansen family, at the event.

All are welcome to attend and participate in the walk.

Knowing that depression, anxiety, and suicide can be a touchy topic of discussion, Hansen is hopeful that the conversation can shift to shed a perceived stigma.

“It’s a time to get together for anyone who is affected by suicide, or any kind of mental health issues, to realize that we’re not alone,” she explains as a member of the committee in charge of the Walk 4 Hope. “There is no shame and there’s nothing wrong with actually saying the word ‘suicide.’ It needs to be said, that it is a horrible thing that’s happening. We just want people to be aware and feel comfortable knowing that there are so many others out there that can help us and have been where we are.”

Having been impacted by suicide and having learned more about what causes it, Hansen is confident that the stigma associated with mental health issues was a major factor in her son’s death. She feels that since he was already on medication for some health issues, he was averse to additional treatment. Hansen also suspects that he was afraid or even ashamed to ask for help because he was a male, and felt a need to protect his masculinity.

The language that has been around suicide for years may also be creating a negative impression of the problem as well.

“For so long, people have said ‘committed suicide’ and ‘committed’ brings more the thought of a crime, and suicide is not a crime,” Hansen states. “It’s a mental illness. It is a disease of the brain.”

As young people, as Josh was, continue to have mental health concerns that go largely unnoticed, some caused by the pressure inflicted by social media, in addition to the detrimental effects of the pandemic, Hansen is hopeful that reaching out for help won’t be done with hesitation in the future.

After losing her son to suicide, she is using her time and energy to pay tribute to him with gestures like the Walk 4 Hope.

“I’ve never been angry at him, I know that some people go through that. I’ve just felt complete sorrow that he suffered for so long inside. That’s why I tried to be so involved in prevention and awareness so that I can honor him and do something for others that I couldn’t do for him.”

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