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Faces of 2018: Father whose son's remains were found along Fox River works to change mental health stigma

The Beacon-News - 12/28/2018

Dec. 28--The pouch of coins in Nate Soesbe's son's pocket had turned green by the time his son's remains were found in the Fox River.

"I came across the pouch, and it was really difficult to think," Soesbe said. "I haven't dealt with it all yet. There is no handbook that says 'your son was missing and they fished him out of the river, here's what you are supposed to do.' Somedays, I have to force myself to smile."

His son, Trey, was last seen in December 2015 after he battled bipolar disorder and alcoholism for years, traveling in-and-out of rehab, treatment centers, halfway houses and Nate's home.

Now, his father is spreading the message that mental health care in Illinois needs to change, and state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, has been listening.

The lawmaker said she hopes to begin introducing new legislation in January that will work on connecting veterans to mental health services.

Trey, who was 27 when he went missing, had joined the Army National Guard in Joliet and had planned to work with Kifowit one summer, but he ended up relapsing at the time.

Father reflects on son's battle with mental illness after his remains found along Fox River: 'Trey deserved better' »

"For all the millions of thoughts and prayers, we still have a broken mental health care system," Soesbe said. "The only thing that is going to effect change isn't thoughts and prayers, it is a million calls to your elected official or a million emails or votes."

Currently, the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs does not include family support to create a network of assistance to veterans, Kifowit said.

"What we are working on is to look at the whole universe of the veteran or service member and why they're struggling, where their avenues of support are and where we can uphold the pillars of support in their family and friends," she said.

Other times, a parent can try to drag their child to a doctor's appointment, but sometimes its better if a knowledgeable person can connect with them to someone like a fellow veteran for peer-to-peer counseling, officials have said.

Kifowit said she hopes more connectivity prevents parents from aimlessly wandering, trying to get help for their children, and instead makes it easier to link them to services.

Another avenue is identifying where IDVA can have partnerships with mental health providers and organizations to link people to and to break down the stigma regarding mental health, officials say.

"The military stifles weakness and mental health, and then they get out and try to adjust and aren't used to asking for help," Kifowit said. "We need to break down that barrier and say it's OK if you're not OK. But, when a person reaches out, there needs to be somebody there to take their hand."

Soesbe said that, in addition to assistance from the government, corporations can help support its employees through Employee Assistance Programs. It was an EAP that provided Soesbe with free grief counseling, he said.

"If there was a more receptive structure in place, it would have probably facilitated a higher chance he would have recovered and gotten healthy," Soesbe said about his son. "I felt like I didn't know where to turn and there's a hotline for gambling addiction or everything else, but it seems to me we could do better."

Trey had been working on a master's degree at the University of Illinois at Springfield from 2012 to 2013. He was one credit hour short of his degree in public administration when he disappeared, Soesbe said.

He plans to submit Trey's thesis for an honorary degree.

"Ironically, Trey wrote about juvenile recidivism in jail because they do not have support," Soesbe said. "He felt strongly about helping people. I miss him a lot. It's the times you think about what you would have had. You have to stop yourself from thinking, 'OK, what would his kids have looked like? What if he had gotten his degree?'"


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