Jim Tkach has traveled the country trying to shatter the stigma associated with mental illness, but the reception hasn’t always been a positive one.
Venues have tried to dictate exactly what he would say and newspapers have told him they “don’t have room for that kind of stuff.”
The scene was different Monday morning inside Marian High School’s gymnasium. One could hear a pin drop as Tkach, who co-founded the Bo Tkach Foundation, described the pain of losing his oldest son Travis via suicide in 2017 and his ongoing mission to bring awareness of depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and other related illnesses.
“We can help each other and look out for each other,” Tkach told the Marian student body, or we can just keep going like we are. I hope you choose to help each other and go out of your way to do what you can without telling people you’re doing it.”
In saying those words, he described just the kind of individual Travis “Bo” Tkach strove to be.
Diagnosed with OCD at age 12, Bo never let his struggle hinder the compassion and generosity he showed for others.
Bo was known for captaining gym class teams so he could choose students who weren’t necessarily the most athletically gifted individuals. Jim learned shortly after Bo’s death that he had been having weekly uplifting phone conversations with a girl battling cancer, but he didn’t tell a soul.
“In hindsight, he got it,” Jim said. “He got what life is about. We give, we care and we love and we don’t tell anyone that we do it.”
He shared stories Monday of athletes and other well-known personalities who either took their own life or still continue to address their own mental health illness.
In most of those cases, the deaths could have been prevented, had a friend or colleague stepped in to make a difference.
“Depression and suicide are really misunderstood,” Jim said. “People don’t get it that depression is an illness. It is not something we choose. Who would choose to hurt themselves and take their own life? If someone has diabetes, they’re going to take the insulin. If someone has heart disease, they’re going to take the medication. But when we ask them if they’re going to take medicine for depression, they sometimes get embarrassed. My job today is to teach you there is no embarrassment and we’re making great strides.”
Following Jim’s talk, Marian presented him with a $300 contribution to the Bo Tkach Foundation, continuing what has been a strong bond between the school and the nonprofit organization.
He credited Marian’s athletic director, Stan Dakosty, with being a longtime friend and part of a strong support system for his family following Bo’s death.
“We’ve done over 200 presentations and one of the first was right here at Marian,” Jim said.
“The Men of Marian let us use their nonprofit organization to get our initial paperwork set up. There is a very long history here and it is one of my favorite places to come talk.”
Published January 30. 2018
BY JARRAD HEDES JMHEDES@TNONLINE.COM