Be Better; educating coaches, parents, student athletes on mental wellness

Student athletes experience an extraordinary amount of pressure. The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified that.

With a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, Be Better; is creating a mental wellness curriculum for student athletes, their coaches, and their parents.
Ian Miskelley
“It’s a full-time job to be an athlete and it’s a full-time job to be a student. You’re constantly trading something. Maybe it’s sleep, maybe it’s nutrition, maybe it’s studying,” says Steve Miskelley whose son, Ian, took his own life in 2020. Ian was 19.

Miskelley, and his wife, Jill, started Be Better; that same year to honor their son’s struggles with depression.

The semicolon in the Be Better; name is a nod to punctuation's use as a suicide prevention symbol. A semicolon isn't the end of a sentence; the writer can continue on.

'Epidemic of mental stress'

Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. Suicide numbers in youth have been increasing since 2010, and as of 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study. The pandemic has only "intensified" the issue, according to the three agencies that issued the decree.

The country, Miskelley says, is experiencing “an epidemic of mental stress.”

“It’s alarming when you think about what isolation and lock down have done to the mental health of kids,” he says.

Early intervention increases the quality of life and decreases suicide ideation, he says.

Mental wellness doesn’t necessarily mean a person isn’t sometimes depressed or anxious, but it does mean that they have the toolbox of coping mechanisms to help them through the tough times.

First step = Education

The education series is step one toward the ultimate goal of the Ian Miskelley Be Better; Wellness Center. In the coming weeks, Be Better; will work with coaches at Hope College to educate them on mental wellness. From there, the program will move on to area high school coaches and athletes. Soon middle schools will be included. Eventually, the program will likely extend to elementary-aged kids. 

Although the program intends to target student athletes first (as Miskelley says, “we know athletes”), it will eventually spread to other student groups.

“The athletes are the tip of the iceberg,” Miskelley says. “We envision that this will turn into a much broader curriculum.”

Wellness Center

What started with a few support groups — in three to five years will become the Ian Miskelley Be Better; Wellness Center with around-the-clock support for youth suffering from mental health issues and their families.

The center will be there to bridge the gap between youth/parents and the mental health system.

“We received a diagnosis — now what?” 

“How do we help a loved one who is struggling?”

“What are the little things we can be doing at home?”

“How do we navigate the mental health system?”

“In our experience, that was the hardest thing,” Miskelley says. “It’s a series of hurdles — 12-foot-high fences is more like it.”


Be Better; received its 501(c)3 status in December, which allowed the nonprofit to begin fundraising in earnest.

On June 13 at Macatawa Golf Club, the Be Better; will host its first golf outing. For sponsorship opportunities, to donate prizes, or to volunteer, email honorary chairman Ed Amaya or call 616-796-0124. To register a foursome for a day of golf, visit the event page.

Money from the event will go toward that ultimate goal of opening the Ian Miskelley Be Better; Wellness Center.

“We want the parents to know they have a resource to fall back on,” Miskelley says. “If ever you’re at your wit’s end, you need somebody to talk to: Here’s our number. If you can muster the courage to call me or walk in the door — I’ve got you. I’m not going to hand you off.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741 or call/text Be Better; at 616-844-8896.


Be Better Mental Wellness Center draws inspiration from champion Holland swimmer


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Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.