It’s unlikely anyone in the last five years in Delaware has done more to promote mental health among young people than Chris Locke and his family and friends.
Locke, dozens of people close to his family, and Saint Mark’s High School students and alums joined together Feb. 24 for the latest tribute to the memory of Sean Locke, Chris’s son. The school dedicated “Sean’s Room,” a place where students can go to talk and find help with mental health struggles.
Sean Locke, a graduate of Saint Mark’s and the University of Delaware, lost his battle with depression in 2018.
The room at Saint Mark’s, furnished with comfortable lounge chairs and places to relax, includes two rooms for private discussions and space to unwind. The facility was boosted by a donation from a donor who wants to remain anonymous, Chris Locke said.
“What’s happening is parents and kids are coming together,” he said. “We’ve got to change how we deal with mental health in our society.”
He believes every family has some experience with mental health struggles.
“When we lost Sean, so many people came up and talked to me about their own personal journey or someone they had lost to suicide. And I didn’t know that at the time. We all are dealing with something.”
Sean’s Room will be staffed by University of Delaware-trained peer specialists two days per week during lunch periods. The specialists will work closely with the Saint Mark’s guidance staff to keep continuity of care consistent while handling everyday student concerns, according to school officials.
“We started brainstorming and came up with this idea,” Locke said.
The SL24 Memorial Classic basketball showcase returned to Wilmington’s Chase Fieldhouse in early February, helping to raise money for the “UnLocke the Light Foundation” inspired by the late Saint Mark’s High School athlete. This year’s classic raised more than $500,000.
The foundation was established in 2018 after the suicide of Locke, who played basketball at Saint Mark’s and the University of Delaware. The mission of the foundation is to raise awareness and to let people know that they do not have to fight the battle alone or in silence. UnLocke the Light provides education to high school and college students about the signs of depression, aims to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and makes resources available for those who seek help.
Sean’s House opened in October 2020 near the University of Delaware in the house where Locke lived while a student there. It offers a library, room to sit and talk, and a kitchen. Chris Locke said the foundation now hopes to establish rooms with the same purpose at high schools around Delaware. Saint Mark’s is the first.
Locke said it didn’t take long to go from idea to reality.
“The administration at Saint Mark’s really made this happen and we just put it together in 45 days,” Locke said.
“We recognize that students need a space to call their own, somewhere they can unwind and let go of the stress of the day,” said Saint Mark’s Principal Diane Casey.
Students expressed confidence that the room is a worthwhile effort.
“This is a great place to have someone you can talk to,” said student Anthony Staropoli.
“We have three guidance counselors and they only have so much time,” said Michael Quinones. “This is just very accessible for the students.”
Peer specialists Mallory Murphy and Meghan Kirker, juniors at Saint Mark’s, volunteer at Sean’s House in Newark and are grateful to the Lockes for shining a light on the need to support mental health.
“We offer our support for anyone coming in need, someone to talk to,” Kirker said. “It’s really a wide variety of people.”
“It’s fantastic,” Murphy said. “I feel like the students will really utilize it as a place to unwind, chill out.”
Casey said the room will be available for students who just need a few minutes of quiet during their day to reset and regroup. It will be a place where they can pause and take a deep breath, she said.