‘We tried to keep him safe’: family shares story of loss to suicide to stress importance of mental health

MADISON, Wis. – A local family grappling with the devastating loss of a loved one to suicide is hoping to bring awareness to the issue of mental health by sharing his story.

31-year-old Anthony Schwoegler suffered from mental health issues and substance abuse since 2019; his struggle was made more difficult by the pandemic as he found it hard to deal with anxiety as a frontline worker doing Covid-19 testing.

“That was a huge weight for him,” said Schwoegler’s older brother Ryan Schwoegler. “I think he loved it, he was working with people, he was a part of the solution but it was challenging.”

Schwoegler’s family began to notice a change in his behavior and wanted to help but had a hard time getting him admitted to an appropriate facility.

They believed he needed immediate help but were told he didn’t meet the qualifications for inpatient care or that beds weren’t available – despite Schwoelger expressing suicidal thoughts.

Instead, he qualified for outpatient care 6 hours a week. Even at that time, Schwoegler’s sister Jill Squires didn’t believe that was enough.

“We knew better than that what he needed,” Squires said. “We tried to keep him safe, we tried to keep him at home, we tried to keep some things from him that were triggering.”

Family was also told having Schwoegler complete an intake evaluation would take weeks and more than $50,000 – time and money they didn’t have on hand.

“It’s a lot to plan for,” said Ryan. “It’s a lot to work around when you need that right then and there, it’s very difficult for a family to put that together.”

While waiting to be assessed, on Thursday, April 21st Schwoegler – on record for a stay at a psychiatric institute – was able to buy a gun for the first time. On Sunday, April 24 he used that gun to take his own life.

Schwoegler had been scheduled for an intake evaluation on Monday.

“All I keep thinking about is if, you know, we had also been able to buy him some more time,” said Ryan. “From even being able to get access to things that he could harm himself.”

However, it wasn’t just their inability to get Schwoegler to a facility that made getting him help a challenge. Family found it difficult to cut off his access to illegally-obtained drugs, and Schwoegler at times wasn’t open with his family.

Instead, he took to TikTok speaking candidly about his hospitalization due to withdrawal and difficulty coping with medication changes, even telling others they weren’t alone and reminding them of resources available to help.

“Ok TikTok, I don’t want to go back to that spot where I previously was, but what do you guys do for your anxiety? What is in the air these days?” he said in his last post. “Help me, TikTok.”

His family only saw his posts after his death, wishing there was a system in place to connect users who post about mental health struggles to local community professionals.

“When he hashtags mental health, how are we not having people monitor this?” Ryan said.

Schwoegler’s funeral will be live streamed Friday at 11 a.m. His family said they have received an overwhelming amount of support from people in similar situations.

The 31-year-old is being remembered for being the life of the party, funny, and as someone who often put others first.

In 2021, he graduated from UW Health’s Medical Assistance Apprentice Program. To honor his memory, UW Health will be offering an annual award in his name to an outstanding Medical Assistant Apprentice graduate, beginning this summer.

“We are saddened about the passing of Anthony “Tony” Schwoegler,” a UW Health spokesperson said in a statement. “He made a positive impact on his fellow students, teachers and he will be missed.”

His family has also created the “Tony Schwoegler Memorial Fund” in his honor to ensure his story is told, make funds available for people to get access to proper care as soon as possible, and raise awareness about the need to grow the mental health industry.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, there is help available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24/7 at 800-273-8255. Dane County’s 24-hour Crisis Line can be reached at 608-280-2600.