UnLocke-ing Your Inner Light: Sean Locke, SALSthon, and Standing Against Depression

Liam Furlong, Editor-in-Chief

July 18, 2018. For some members of the New Castle County community, this was simply another humdrum summer day, carefree and without consequence. Yet for an expansive majority, this was the day that Sean Locke, a student at the University of Delaware at the time, took his own life after a long-time struggle against depression. It came from seemingly out-of-the-blue; neither his parents, his six siblings, nor his closest friends recognized the internal torture that Sean endured every day for an estimated three years. “Sean was just like any of them,” commented his visibly distraught father Chris Locke. “Before we lost Sean, I had this stereotypical view of depression… and always believed that my Sean was the opposite of that.” This crushing reality only truly sank into his parents’ hearts upon picking up their late son’s final letter to those who knew and loved him, in which he concluded with three telling words: “Depression is real.”

On this day, July 18, the New Castle community mourned. 

Nearly two years later, Sean’s words continue to resonate in the hearts of those who knew him as well as those who have been impacted by his somber message. Depression is real, and it is currently on the rise; suicide rates via depression have increased at an alarming 55% in the last three years alone. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that depression never discriminates. Sean was but one fallen soldier in this lifelong battle that hundreds of thousands face every moment of their lives. Sean’s father Chris emphasized upon being interviewed that “Sean’s death put a face to depression. This is a disease that can truly affect anyone: the athlete, the non-athlete, the scholar, the white, black, rich, or poor.” And much like Sean’s story, millions of individuals diagnosed with clinical depression are ensnared by the virulent stigma surrounding this disease; oftentimes, victims feel that their only outlet in which to truly be free is taking their own lives. This is why the students at Salesianum, Ursuline, and Padua must fight back against this pressing pandemic. This is why Sean’s story must be told. This is why we need to listen.

In light of Sean’s deeply compelling story, it is no surprise that this year’s sponsor for SALSthon is UnLocke the Light, a nonprofit organization established by Sean’s family dedicated to providing resources for those struggling with depression, self-injury, and suicide. Yet despite the many reminders to sign up for the Challenge 250 and the gallant efforts of the Salesianum, Ursuline, and Padua respective student councils, this message has yet to impress upon the majority of the student population. At least, this will have been the case. On February 26, Salesianum School will be embracing Sean and his family’s story with a V+J Day assembly. The school has taken it upon itself to progress UnLocke the Light’s mission to educate and spread awareness regarding depression and suicidal thoughts to ensure that no one fights this disease alone. 

As students from Father Beretta’s Death and Dying class have already experienced, this is a highly emotional talk. Many of the students in the auditorium next week knew Sean on a personal level, be it through an athletic rivalry against St. Mark’s before he graduated, growing up together on the same street, or just as a buddy whom they could always count on for a laugh or a good talking things-through. “Hearing Mr. Locke speak about his son like this, it touches everybody in a different way,” commented senior Joey Orth. “But my reaction was… whoa. This can happen to anybody, the guy sitting next to you can be going through something extremely painful, and you’ll never even know it.” However, it is not just the Locke family whom many students will be able to connect with through their struggles. Allegedly, a Salesianum alumni whom has faced depression during his high-school career will be speaking during the V+J Day assembly; similarly, Beretta announced to the remaining faculty members that Mr. Haley, beloved basketball coach and Salesianum math teacher, will be sharing the story of his many years of struggling against depression’s uphill battle. “We think this will have a significant impact on the students,” remarked Beretta, “to see someone that they see every day, that they know so well who has fought this battle.”

July 18, 2018. This was the day that Sean Locke, a student at the University of Delaware at the time, took his own life after a long-time struggle against depression. But this is not the end of Sean’s story. His life and legacy lives on in the hearts he touched while he was alive, and today so many of those people are progressing the fight against depression in his name. Just days after his untimely passing, over three thousand people attending his funeral to share their fondest memories of Sean and to be there for his family members when they needed this support the most. Sean’s sister organized a small walk through Baltimore in remembrance of her brother just months ago; despite only inviting twenty-five people, over one hundred fifty people joined her cause. By supporting UnLocke the Light through SALSthon and the Challenge 250, students in Sean’s community, students who have been emotionally touched by him, can too further his family’s mission. Being exposed to the tough, often devastating realities of depression not only spreads awareness to this army of empathetic Salesians. It is also a cry to action. Senior Patrick Gannon remarked when discussing the upcoming assembly that “Because of Mr. Locke’s talk, I see now that we as teenagers need to be a light for everyone in need and understand the risk.” Fellow senior Kyle Titchenell visibly agreed, saying “The most important thing you can do is reach out, is start that conversation. Ask yourself ‘how can I see this issue in a different way to best help others?’” By engaging in the many talks featured on the upcoming V+J Day, all 1,000+ Salesianum students will undoubtedly discover that answer for themselves.