DELAVAN, Wis. - It’s quiet on Jeff Fuller’s property. Tucked away in Walworth County, his yard is nurtured by nature. A pontoon silently floats on the surface of the pond situated centrally between a rickety tree house and the pens where he breeds sporting dogs.
In the quiet, Fuller quickly learned even litters of adorable Labs can’t fill the void left by a son.
“He was the kind of kid that even at 2 years old, he would walk into the room,” Fuller said, “and he had a magnetism about him that everyone wanted to talk to him.”
Cole Fuller was a natural athlete and a regular on his dad’s hunting show. Jeff Fuller says his son was smart, popular, and absolutely loved sports.
“Everything was lined up for him to be so successful and have a great life prior to once he started to struggle,” Fuller said.
Those struggles started a few years ago for Cole. They came in fits of anger, followed by countless therapy sessions, thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs, inconsistent medications, and court-ordered hospital stays. Cole was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His father was worried he’d hurt himself or someone else.
“To watch your child struggle in the way that Cole did, I guess helpless would be the best way to explain it. You think that as a parent you can fix anything, and then you're hit with this,” Fuller said.
One day back in April, Cole was having a particularly rough day at his mom’s house in Rock County. Fuller suggested his stepdad call the sheriff’s office for support.
“And as he was doing that, Cole took his life.”
Cole Fuller was 17 years old. His older and younger brothers stay busy to cope.
STATS ON SUICIDE SHOW A GROWING PROBLEM FOR KIDS, TEENS
Stories like Cole’s are becoming more and more common. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults. The number of kids going to the emergency room for suicidal ideations or attempts has increased dramatically in recent years. Young people between 15 and 24 years old have the highest rate of hospitalizations for self-inflicted injuries. High schoolers in the U.S. attempt suicide more than 3,000 times a day.
Fuller thought some of Cole’s challenges were a product of a developing brain and believed in time, everything would be OK.
“You are constantly dealing with the questions of why, and could you have done something different,” Fuller said.
GRIEF TURNED INTO ACTION
Within days of Cole’s death, Jeff Fuller decided he needed to use his online presence to prevent this from happening again. He pieced together clips of his son to produce a memorial video. It has since been viewed more than 13,000 times.
“This is hard on our family, but that's why I'm forging ahead with this because someone needs to speak,” Fuller said. “Someone needs to be the person that says enough is enough.”
In addition, the family has raised nearly $25,000 through Mental Health America of Wisconsin. All of that money will go toward starting Hope Squads in high schools in the area. Fuller says the concept began in Utah when a principal saw multiple suicides in his school. The goal is to train the students who are most trusted by their peers to make sure they can identify someone who’s struggling and make sure they get the help they need.
“Cole's friends are there, and he would want us to help them,” Fuller said.
SUICIDE PREVENTION AT THE STATE LEVEL
Fuller is also scheduling meetings with state lawmakers to make his case for more state funding to prevent suicide. He was floored to find out how long it took for his son to get the care he needed and how little insurance was required to cover.
“There are so few resources and trying to get consistent resources and consistent help is nearly impossible in our state,” Fuller said.
There are extra efforts being made to provide more state-funded mental health services in Wisconsin. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos established a Task Force on Suicide Prevention, which is in the process of traveling the state to talk to stakeholders and develop better resources for people in crisis.
Additionally, Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal included $1.4 billion for schools, some of which would fund more mental health services. Republicans at the Capitol have released their own version of the budget, which does include more aid for mental health services, more grant money for those programs, and funding for a suicide prevention text line called HOPELINE.
Fuller wanted to make sure any donations made in Cole’s name go toward the Hope Squad program, which he believes will make more of a difference than other efforts have thus far.
“I feel Cole's here with us every day, and he's helping motivate us to forge ahead. In Cole's name, if we could help save one kid, that'd be great. I think we have the opportunity to do so much more,” Fuller said.
If you want to donate to this cause, go to Mental Health American of Wisconsin’s website and specify you’re donating in Cole Fuller’s memory.
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