KO grad speaks about mental illness
We’ve all sat through boring classes that warn us against doing drugs, drunk driving, smoking, etc. Often the bland information goes in one ear and right out the other without effect. On March 20, Keystone Oaks took a different approach and invited former student Ian Cummins to share his real-life story in an assembly with seventh graders in Mrs. Ostrowski’s health class, hitting closer to home than a standard class.
Cummins began his speech talking a bit about himself. He was born here in Pittsburgh, PA, and went to Keystone Oaks for schooling. After graduating in 2009, he went on to attend California University of Pennsylvania for three years and since February 2013 has worked as a nurse in the Medical Intensive Care Unit at UPMC Mercy Hospital. Cummins’ inspiration for a mental illness speech didn’t come from his job, but from his younger brother, Ryan.
Ryan was born on October 22, 1983. Like Ian, Ryan went to Keystone Oaks, enjoying his eighth grade year the most. He participated in football, track, cross country, and played trumpet in the symphonic, marching, and jazz bands. In his sophomore year of high school, signs of anxiety began to appear. He lost weight and started taking depression medicines. In 2011, Ryan tried to take his life for the first time and received psychiatric help afterwards. Nothing was helping. In college, Ryan pursued a degree in software engineering, but had trouble focusing. Most of his time was spent at school or at work.
On November 7, 2013, Ryan told Ian and their mother he was going to a college party. The following day Ryan didn’t come home. They started to call his friends, all who had no clue about Ryan’s whereabouts. A bit of panic began to set in. The next day Ian drove everywhere in the surrounding communities to look for his brother, but returned home late at night to no avail. In the morning, he awoke to a police officer knocking at the door. The officer informed Ian and his family that Ryan had committed suicide in his locked car by filling it with poisonous gas in a church parking lot. Later, Ian found this quote in his brother’s wallet that has grown to be the slogan of his campaign about mental illness:
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” – Mahatma Gandhi
In memory of his brother, Cummins decided to walk across the country. After preparing logistically, mentally, and physically, he started his venture on March 1, 2014 at Virginia Beach, Virginia, and walked all the way to San Francisco, California. Along the way, Cummins was stopped by dozens of people wondering what he was doing and if he needed anything. With these people, he worked on completing three goals: to use his story to educate, to encourage others to share their own stories, and to give hope to others in similar situations.
Cummins believes the first (and hardest) thing you should do if you or someone you know suffers from mental illness is to have a discussion and talk it out. He hopes to use the stories he hears from people on his walk to better understand the reality of mental illness, what causes it, and how we can treat it. One thing Cummins is certain of is that “illness does not make up a person.” In other words, there is more to a person than an illness, you just need to know their story.
To learn more about Ian, Ryan, or the walk across America, visit www.ianwalksamerica.com. You can also read other peoples’ stories, donate to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or contact Ian on the website.