Mental Health

San Diego cardiologist using tragedy of son's suicide for mental health awareness

Jayden Gillespie was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2020. Just two years later he took his own life.

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A San Diego cardiologist is hoping to turn the personal tragedy of his son's suicide into triumph for others.

Jayden Gillespie was the picture-perfect son. A high school presidential scholar, a senior film major at Loyola Marymount University and a loving son who kept dad on his toes.

“If I was not necessarily on top of certain issues that are going in society, he would make sure that I was, because that was important to him, that we all were fair to each other,” said his father, Dr. Robert Gillespie.

Jayden was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2020. Last January, just two years later, he took his own life.

Losing their 22-year-old son motivated the Gillespie family to establish a foundation in Jayden’s name to help others.

“We wanted to do more to deal with the issue of mental health. To go into our communities and do our very best to prevent families such as ours from having the same trauma and unfortunate outcome," explained Dr. Gillespie.

The second annual Jayden T. Gillespie invitational golf tournament took place Monday at the Crosby National Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe.

The event helps to raise scholarship money for deserving art students.

As a whole, the foundation also works to provide mentorship and educational programs to help kids deal with stress and mental health, especially those in the African American community.

CDC data shows suicides have increased more than 36% among Black people ages 10 to 24 years old between 2018 and 2021.

“My message is we have to tackle this thing and not be ashamed about mental illness. Talk about it. Let others know your experience. Get out there and make a difference. Don't shy away from it,” says Dr. Gillespie.

Hospitals nationwide are seeing a 30%  increase in children coming to the emergency room for mental health concerns since the pandemic.

It’s a concern doctors at Rady Children's Hospital are dealing with firsthand.

“We can see on high days, 30 patients in a day. Now we generally average closer to the 15 to 20 range, but we have very, very busy days where we have huge numbers of children coming in in mental health crisis," said Dr. Willough Jenkins at Rady Children’s Hospital.

Gillespie is hoping to help bring those numbers down, broadening his horizons to tackle mental health issues through the legacy of his son's foundation.

"We have to educate people to understand this is not something you should be ashamed of. No more than if you had a heart issue or if you broke an arm,” Gillespie said.

Some of the key warning signs parents should look out for, according to Dr. Jenkins, include changes to children's moods, like they're more irritable or sad, as well as difficulty sleeping. They may also stop doing things they used to enjoy.

Jenkins said the first step for young people is to either talk to a school counselor or a pediatrician.

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