Saving our Sons: Spokane family vows to help others after losing their son to suicide

SPOKANE, Wash. – Kellen Erickson seemed to have a bright future ahead of him. 

But what nobody saw was the depression that had taken hold of him and led to his death by suicide more than two years ago. 

Many kids, especially boys, are struggling with their mental health. But what makes boys so vulnerable and what can we do to help them? 

The Erickson family lost Kellen far too soon, but his loss has inspired a movement. 

Kellen was the middle of Mike and Kimber Erickson’s three children and their only son. They describe him as a great kid who was fun to be around. 

“He was just a sweet kid. Really sweet kid,” Kimber said. 

That sweet kid treated everyone with kindness, especially his younger cousins. 

“He could wrestle and he could horse around with our guys and he could just tolerate their rascal, the rascalness, of the young guys,” said Kellen’s uncle Kelly Risse. “He was just so patient and loving with those guys.” 

“Teachers really enjoyed him and his classmates really enjoyed him, and you know, he just grew into an outstanding young man,” Mike said. 

But what most people didn’t see was that an outstanding young man was struggling with depression. During his junior year at Ferris High School, he finally admitted it to his parents. 

“So he did get therapy. He did great his senior year. He played well on the basketball team,” Kimber said. 

He did well enough to be a major contributor for the Saxons. 

“And so, kind of thought it was just a speed bump in the road of life,” Mike said. 

But towards the end of his senior year, with his soccer team in the state semifinals, graduation just weeks away and his future uncertain, Kellen’s depression became debilitating. 

“It was such a deep depression at that point, his anxiety had grown into this depression where he couldn’t function,” Kimber said. 

“The anxiety of ‘Who am I? Where do I go? What do I do next?’ I think really grabbed him and pulled him down,” Mike said. 

Kellen started talking about suicide. Twice, the Ericksons took him to the emergency room. 

“It’s excruciating. I mean, the days were long, just wondering what was going to happen,” Kimber remembered. 

And then, it happened. Kellen died by suicide in January 2020, just months after graduating from Ferris. 

READ: Saving our Sons: Mental health resources for teens and families

The church was packed at Kellen’s memorial service, full of family and friends still in disbelief. Many of them were young men, just like Kellen. 

“If he’d only known what an impact that he made on all those people that loved him, love him still. It just, that’s so sad that he had no idea how many he touched,” Kimber said. 

His uncle Kelly delivered the eulogy and was surprised by the response it drew. 

“I probably had 50 parents come up to me and were like ‘Well, what are we going to do?’ and it’s like, ‘Woah, this is definitely a real time,’” he said. 

The family knew right then they wanted to do something to help. And what they found in their research was startling. 

“Boys die by suicide almost four times more than girls. And that has to with the differences in their brains,” Kimber said. “Boys are just struggling.” 

That led them to start Kellen Cares, a foundation to help young men and their families navigate mental health issues. 

“We just knew that we wanted to try to help because Kellen was a giver, he was a helper,” Mike said. 

Knowing what they know now, Kellen’s family wonders if keeping him busy and constantly trying to cheer him up was the right approach. 

“I think maybe he just needed to have some downtime. But I was just, I just wanted to keep him moving,” Kimber said. 

“He’d be struggling and I’d come in and I just wasn’t okay with him being sad, you know?” Risse said. “I wanted to fix him, and I think as men, we want to fix, fix, fix, and it’s just not the way we need to roll.” 

On Saturday, April 23, Kellen Cares is holding its first event: “The Helping Boys Thrive Summit.” Professionals will be brought in to talk to families of boys who are struggling as Kellen did. 

“For Kellen and people that are feeling that way, they’re hopeless and the people that love them feel helpless,” Mike said. “So, it’s kind of that gap between the hopeless and the helpless. And that’s a gap that we need to try to close or bridge.” 

It also keeps their sweet son’s name at the forefront of everything they do. 

“We miss that kid. Man, do we miss that kid,” Kimber said.