TYLER, TX (KLTV) - A recent study released by the University of Texas showed that of the twenty-five most populated counties in Texas, Smith County has the highest suicide rate, reaching more than three times the rate of some counties.
An East Texas family is fighting back.
"He was starting point guard at All Saints; he was a popular kid," father Doug McSwane said.
Everything was great for Patrick McSwane, until one day when he called his parents from his university dorm room.
"He asked me how long I had been in the mafia and why I had put that chip in his head," McSwane said. "And I thought he was joking. Then I realized that he was deadly serious."
After years of trying to find answers, Patrick was diagnosed with severe schizophrenia. The McSwanes found themselves trying to understand mental illness.
"So we ended up going insular and we just kept to ourselves and tried to battle alone," Patrick's mother Mo McSwane said.
After nine years of battling schizophrenia, in August 2013, Patrick took his own life.
"Those are words you are never prepared to hear," Mo McSwane said. "We always hoped that he would pull through and that he would make it, but that one day, he lost his battle."
As suicide rates in East Texas rise, one psychiatrist at UT Health Science Center in Tyler says something has to change.
"Historically, we have lack of care and unfortunately a huge stigma against getting care," Dr. Jeffery Matthews said. "So even people who have access to care don't get help because of the stigma around mental health."
That's a stigma the McSwanes are fighting to change.
"I would really like to see people have more education about mental health, and when they know someone that's going through that," Mo McSwane said, "that they could be compassionate and caring and believe you, that what you're going through is real."
The McSwanes found a way to educate and help people struggling with mental illness through their annual conference called Peace of Mind. More than 800 people were in attendance at the last conference.
"Usually your children are your legacy; a child is a parent's legacy. In this case, we are our son's legacy," Mo McSwane said. "The beauty that comes from ashes, if we can take his tragedy and alleviate suffering for others, that's a silver lining."
The McSwanes will host their 5th annual Peace of Mind conference this October. Participants will get a chance to hear from doctors, mental illness advocates and even some individuals who struggle with mental illness themselves. You can find more information about the conference at this link.