NORTH HALLIDON – Michael Scanlan was witty, personable, and hot dog on the dance floor.
From the outside, he seemed to have enviable qualities. But some may not have known how he actually felt on the inside.
The truth is, he wasn’t always feeling well.
And when the COVID-19 pandemic took a turn for the worse, and Scanlan support groups were forced to cancel their meetings, it plunged him into disarray. He never recovered, and on September 19, 2020, he committed suicide. He was 36 years old.
Now, a year later, his grieving mom feels guilty for the warning signs she thinks she’s missed. She said in an interview this week that she is determined to capitalize on the tragedy.
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Susan Sonima, 59, started a charity in her son’s name, called The Mike Project, to raise awareness for mental health by sponsoring support groups that meet at Rockpoint Community Church on North Haledon Avenue. The first in-person fundraising campaign will take place this weekend.
She said, “The day Mike died, I knew it was because he couldn’t get access to the help he needed. So I made the decision that I was going to start something.”
On Saturday mornings, the charity will host area youth and their parents in the hunting derby at the Buehler Cultural Center and Poole on High Mountain Road.
His mother said that hunting was among Scanlan’s favorite pastimes.
Scanlan, who was employed by Van’s Auto Body at the time of his death, was a 2003 graduate of Manchester Regional High School in Halledon.
His mother said he was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age, but it didn’t affect his self-image until his freshman year of high school. He learned that his ADHD could make him ineligible to join the military.
It was a huge disappointment for Scanlan, who wanted to join the Marine Corps. “He kind of felt like it wasn’t normal,” his mother said.
Scanlan stopped taking prescription pills and became dependent on alcohol, and by his final year of high school, he was dependent on drugs.
His mother said his condition shows how difficult it is to overcome the public stigma of mental illness. “A brain with a problem is no different from the heart, liver, kidneys, or bones,” she said. “It’s part of your body.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 46% of people who die by suicide have a known mental health condition. Several factors may put a person at greater risk, such as access to handguns or drug use. Men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women, although women do try.
Scanlan drug use continued after high school. He also suffered from chronic mental illness, including periods of depression. His mother said he kept a journal, and regularly attended support groups.
But any iota of stability that was present in Scanlan’s life was gone by 2018, when he relapsed. He was admitted to rehab at a facility in Patterson, and was discharged from the hospital six months later.
Sunima said his condition improved dramatically until the outbreak and shutdown of the economy. In early September last year, when cases of the virus began to increase again, I noticed strange behavior.
She said her son gave some of his belongings to his friends – a watch. Then, tackle fishing.
Because he won’t be here,” said Sonima, crying on the phone this week. “I thought it was getting better, but it wasn’t.”
Two weeks later, Sunima found her son’s body in his bedroom. “I could outrun his life a million times,” she said. “What if it was different? What if this was different? I don’t know where, at what point, it would have been different.”
Sonema said she finds comfort in making sure others don’t fall through the loopholes of the health care system. Her charity’s support groups, now for teens and adults, meet at church from 7-8 p.m. on Thursdays. members are anonymous; They help each other with anxiety and depression problems.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Reverend James Boshoven, who leads worship services at the church. “This stuff has been in my heart for a long time. After coming out of the pandemic, I really wanted to focus on mental health and wellness.”
Sonema said the charity will offer the church’s third peer support group, a weekly children’s meet, next month.
“This is what I really want it to be,” Sunima said. “I want this to be a place where you leave the stigma at the door.”
Philip Defensentis is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the hottest news from your local community, please sign up or activate your digital account today.
support project mike
The charity will be holding a Fishing Derby – its first in-person fundraising drive – this weekend. Participants can win prizes, including prizes, a fishing rod set and a reel.