They say a mother knows. That intuition — nurturing and nourishing — can beat most any medical attention when kids are young. Then they leave the nest.
Heading off to college is one of life’s great milestones — the culmination of hard work, creative visualization and aspiration. For George Orley, the University of Michigan promised new experiences, enduring relationships and boundless opportunities.
can also be a stumbling block that belies the smiling faces and
beautiful backdrops of school brochures. The flip side of the
independence college offers can be the absence of the family and
familiarity that supported adolescent development and, in some cases,
masked or mitigated mental health issues.
had already been off to school, home for the holidays and back when he
worked up the courage to tell his mom that he had attempted suicide in
those first weeks at school.
Suicide does not discriminate. While college access can often be
skewed by a family’s socioeconomic status, it does not hedge against
the imbalances in brain chemistry that can cause, among other things,
George’s mom Diane
did not know that her son was struggling. She knew what she learned
from his psychologist and psychiatrist and what she could see when he
was home after taking a medical leave from school — mania and depression, along with the side effects of the drugs they prescribed.
from hip surgery, George channeled his energy into the creation of a
nonprofit organization to support vulnerable communities in Detroit. But
he could not overcome his own vulnerability and shut down the nonprofit
the same day he died by suicide.
mother knows that even if she can’t save her child, she may be able to
save someone else’s. Diane’s efforts and the work of the George Orley Mental Wellness Initiative have touched countless lives, including George’s siblings.
she describes it, “Our daughter never considered becoming a doctor
until her brother died. She realized through medicine, she can have
maximum impact on taking care of people and being an advocate for those
who cannot stand up for themselves. She’s using her voice to lobby
politicians for policy reform and her training to demystify mental
illness. Our son Sam has worked to grow WSN — the Wolverine Support Network, a student peer-to-peer mental health support group.”
In spite of the pain that led to George’s death, family and friends remember him as the consummate people person.
Diane’s pain persists years later, but serving others is a salve for her and a legacy for him: “I feel a little more at peace but will forever feel the same about the loss. We’ve helped people directly and indirectly and that’s been cathartic for us.”