A Father’s Letter

Shaun Finnie
Shaun Finnie

Content Warning: This piece contains mentions of suicide.

When you’re a parent, September always feels like the start of something new. That’s why this time of year is so hard for my wife Selme and me. Our daughter Kaleigh died three years ago. She would have just graduated from USC and be embarking on a new stage of life and a career.

Kaleigh was a cheerleader. She’d never done gymnastics or dance and wasn’t very flexible, but she was high energy and full of school spirit. She loved getting people pumped up and excited. She was co-captain her senior year. She had the best smile.

Our daughter was also very, very funny. She had a great sense of comedic timing. She did impressions and wasn’t afraid of being goofy. She was the life of the party.

No one could have known she would take her own life.


Things fell apart for Kaleigh after her freshman year of college. She had always had a tremendous amount of anxiety, but her friends began noticing she was more withdrawn and her sleep schedule was erratic. We thought she was going through a stage and would grow out of it. We didn’t realize she was in such a dark place. We weren’t attuned to where her mind was.

We just didn’t know.

My daughter had an illness that many people don’t want to talk about. Kaleigh hid that she was struggling. Going to a high-achieving school plus non-stop social media can put so much pressure on our kids to have the perfect life. You don’t want your friends to know you have depression, you don’t want to seem not normal, not cool. The illness takes away your perspective.

We wish there had been an Active Minds for Kaleigh. It would have raised awareness about mental health at her school, with students thinking and talking about it more. It would have created an environment where she could accept help, believe in hope, and not have to struggle alone.

Since Kaleigh’s death, her high school has started an Active Minds chapter and arranges for speakers to come to campus and speak openly about mental health. It’s made an incredible difference, not only for the students but also for the parents. They all now better understand the signs of mental illness in young people and that it can impact anyone.

Selme and I believe deeply in Active Minds’ lifesaving work. We want every school to have Active Minds. We want to help Active Minds sustain its year-round efforts to reach young people and let them know they matter, their lives matter, and we need them here.

I wish my daughter had given herself more time and could now be starting her new life after college. Kaleigh died three years ago, but I am, and always will be, her dad.

Yours sincerely,

Shaun Finnie

Kaleigh’s dad and Active Minds supporter


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