MURRAY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Skyler Gardner was a critical care tech at Intermountain Medical Center, an entry-level position for many interested in pursuing a position in the medical field. He was also struggling with addiction and depression.
He died by suicide on March 31, 2018.
“It’s a feeling I’ll never forget because it takes your breath away,” said his mother, Wendy Gardner, of Kimberly, Idaho. His mother said she knew of her son’s problems and struggles, but nothing could prepare her for the pain of losing him. “I never could have comprehended the inability to stand, the inability to breathe, the inability to function,” she said.
“It’s eased a bit,” she added. “But you can’t really explain the deep sense of pain. We’ve all felt pain, but there’s something that surpassed that pain in that moment.”
His co-workers at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray were blindsided by Gardner’s death, especially Gary Brunson, his employer, and friend.
“Everyone loved Skyler,” Brunson recalled. “Skyler will never be forgotten.”
His death has sparked a movement within the Intermountain Healthcare network – a place where medical care providers, particularly in the emergency departments, can go when they feel stressed, alone, or hopeless.
Studies have shown medical caregivers are more prone to suicide or suicide ideation than the general public.
“We deal with some horrific things – we see things that burn images into our brains that we are just unable to ever really clear,” said Brunson. “The stigma is that we are just supposed to deal with it.”
Brunson said a culture of silence persists when it comes to the mental health struggles of medical and emergency care providers. Intermountain Medical Center is using Skyler’s memory to work fight that stigma.
“We saw the need for some kind of a support structure for our staff,” said Brunson, pointing to the “Oasis” support groups now available monthly for caregivers. This peer support-based initiative allows employees to speak freely about things they are having trouble coping with, whether on the job or off. Brunson said the initiative is making the mental health of employees more of a priority.
Skyler’s mother started a website dedicated to helping people love themselves, something her son struggled with throughout his life, she said.
“…to be forgiving of ourselves…to look for hope in our lives,” she said. On the wall in Intermountain Medical Center’s Emergency Department hangs a plaque with Skyler’s picture, and underneath it hang “Love Yourself” bracelets. The plaque hangs near photographs of the Oregon Coast that Skyler, an accomplished photographer, took himself.
“He was a good person and I respect [IMC] for their willingness to address this issue in memory of Skyler’s goodness,” Skyler’s mother said.