Halpert and her husband, Scott, lost their twenty-three-year-old son Garrett to suicide in September 2017. A few months later, she says, they were sitting at his graveside when “we both at the very same time said it would be amazing to have a place that is holistically focused so young adults can have some place to go to feel safe and supported, a middle ground between the psych ER and your once-a-week meeting with your therapist.”
Halpert, a freelance journalist and U-M lecturer, speaks passionately. Nearly two years after Garrett’s death, she and Scott are still reeling from the loss of their son. But their focus on what they’re calling Garrett’s Space is as sharp as their pain.
“Our goal is to have heaven on earth,” Julie explains. They’re creating a center for young adults struggling with mental health issues, a retreat where they can feel safe and supported and can connect with their peers.
“We envision a residential facility for two- or three-week stays,” she says. “We want it to be a place of healing where you can learn healthy coping strategies for living in an increasingly troubled world–like meditation, yoga. We expect to have journaling, art, music, movement, exercise, healthy eating, individual therapy, group therapy.
“That is something we couldn’t find for our son,” she continues. “If you are a parent of a young adult going through this, you often feel very helpless.”
Victor Hong, medical director of Michigan Medicine psychiatric emergency services, emails that “there are significant gaps in mental health care in our community, especially for young people.” Some are reluctant to seek care, and “[e]ven when we do assess individuals in a mental health crisis, the opportunities for treatment are often limited to a locked inpatient psychiatric hospital or outpatient care which is not readily available. In many cases, these options are far from ideal.”
Garrett’s Space, Hong writes, promises to provide “another center for care and another treatment option to help fill in those gaps and provide the crucial healing that is needed.”
Hong agreed to serve on the nonprofit’s advisory council, along with U-M Depression Center executive director John Greden. “It’s taken flight,” says Julie. “Every person we mention this to on every level is like ‘We want to be involved.'”
Scott, a lawyer for thirty years, says they’ll start with a mental health wellness program for young adults recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital. “The statistics show that’s when they’re at the greatest risk for suicide,” he says.
Although Garrett’s Space residents will have access to a psychiatrist, he says the focus will be “on connecting individuals who are going through this same experience.” The couple envision an array of holistic options teaching healthy behaviors and promoting wellness, with follow-up after residents leave.
Their first activity will be to create door hangers listing resources to call and places to go if a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis. “You’d be amazed how many people in the community don’t know who to call or where to turn, depending on what kind of challenges they face,” Scott says. “We struggled with that ourselves.”
They’re looking for volunteers to help distribute the hangers in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti this summer. In August, Garrett’s Space will be the beneficiary of Yoga at the Big House, an annual event supporting nonprofits that tackle mental health issues. (Tickets are available at eventbrite.com.)
The Halperts are aiming to have the wellness program running by year’s end. They envision participants meeting three days a week for peer-to-peer support, yoga, and a social activity.
“All these people are thinking ‘I’m alone; nobody can help me; I’m hopeless; I’m a burden,'” says Julie. “Our son lost hope. We want to restore hope. We want to make them feel connected and that they can be helped.”