Upstate mom raises awareness after son dies by suicide


SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – October 10 is World Mental Health Day and one Upstate woman has been working to raise awareness after her son died from a mental illness.

7 News sat down with the mother and learned how she’s honoring the memory of her son.

“How are we going to make it through this? How are we going to make it through this?”

That’s the question Susan Crooks kept asking herself after her son, Walt Crooks, died by suicide back in August.

Susan Crooks said her son was 35-years-old, happily married and had a passion for teaching.

“He had a regular life. No one even knew at work that he had these troubles, because he was so calm and so kind,” she said. “He was just a gentle spirit.”

What most people didn’t know was that Walt Crooks struggled with depression and anxiety for more than 20 years.

“It just seemed like it progressively got worse,” Susan Crooks said.

Clinic Director at the Spartanburg Area Mental Health Center Kristin James told 7 News they see about 6,000 people a year who suffer from a mental illness. Many of those people struggle with depression and anxiety, like Walt Crooks did; and others have experienced trauma or cyber-bullying.

“From 2014 data, suicide rates in South Carolina have increased 43%, so it’s a dramatic increase,” James said. “It’s epidemic-level.”

Crooks told 7 News her son had a mission to reduce suffering for other people, and she wants to carry on that mission.

She created a non-profit organization called “Walt’s Waltz.”

Just like the waltz has three beats, the organization has three goals:

  1. How to spot signs and stages of mental illness
  2. Encourage open communication about mental illness
  3. End the negative stigma that comes with mental illness

“If you see behaviors that are off, if you see someone is giving away their personal items, or they’re isolating themselves, or they cry frequently,” James said about potential signs.

“That means we talk about this, we talk about anxiety and depression and mental illness like we talk about heart disease or breast cancer,” Susan Crooks said. “And if we can do that, where people feel free to talk about it in the workplace, on the college campuses and things like that, then we’re going to be able to save more lives.”

If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental illness or suicidal thoughts, can click here for help.

There will be an “Out of the Darkness” suicide prevention walk held at Duncan Park in Spartanburg on Sunday, from 1-4 p.m. For more information about that event, click here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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