Mental Health Today: Family members set up endowment in memory of Matt Howe for support and outreach efforts

The Howe family ... Left to right: Will, Rachelle, Matt and Grace Howe. Submitted photo.

by Lissa Blake

There are so many emotions one can experience when a loved one takes his or her own life.

And when Matt Howe passed away earlier this year, his wife, Rachelle Howe, and sister, Becky Decker, decided to organize an effort to do something to try to help others.

“When Matt passed away, there were so many emotions … looming guilt, sadness, bewilderment … I wanted to take his loss and have him be remembered for something good, and to do something good for myself, my kids and my community,” said Howe.

When Matt’s younger brother, Tom, took his own life three months after Matt passed, Howe and Decker knew they had to do something. An endowment fund has now been established to help support people with all types of struggles, including mental illness, suicide or abuse.

“Whether it’s divorce, abuse or the loss of a parent, just one thing can put a child at risk. Every person is just one little spot away from that, but yet people think that it’ll never happen to them, or mental illness isn’t going to affect them,” said Decker.

In an effort to create awareness and provide more education about mental health issues, Howe and Decker, both of Waukon, started Mental Health Today (MHT), the Matt Howe Tribute Endowment through the Allamakee County Community Foundation.

“Becky and I wanted to do something to make resources available for any agency or individual that might need some assistance, and augment what other agencies and individuals are doing as well,” said Howe.

Howe said she and Decker sent out about 80 letters in an effort to raise money for the endowment, and are at $8,500, with a goal of $10,000. She said there are lots of great speakers and support events going on in the county, and she would just like to help make sure those things can happen.

“There are so many good things going on, I just want to help augment those,” she said.

Howe said there will be mini-grants available that people can apply for on an ongoing basis.

“Whether you need gas money to go visit a loved one with mental illness or there’s a library that needs more books on the subject, this fund can help,” she said.

Support groups, public speakers and work in the local schools are top priorities for meeting the fund’s mission.

“We want to help kids with loss, mental illness, abuse, or anything like that. We have talked to the school about a grief plan and potentially having a shared therapist or contracted therapist for students because we’ve learned that with mental illness, if children can learn coping mechanisms early in life they can overcome some of their mental illness or learn to cope with it better,” Howe explained. “The number-one thing the school can do is reach out to the family so that the child feels comfortable coming back to school - especially with suicide, because it comes with different emotions than another death.”

There have been a number of local deaths connected to suicide recently, and Decker said she feels those losses are amplified because the community is so close.

“Because we’re a small community, we are more aware of it,” said Decker, adding more needs to be done to create awareness about how to help people who are struggling. “If famous people like Robin Williams and Kate Spade can’t get help, and they could afford any type of program…”

Howe said she has been heartened by the number of people who have reached out to her to share their own stories since her husband’s death. “We love to talk about Matt. Now people are sending me stories. Those are memories my kids are going to have,” she said.

Howe said she wants to make sure people realize that 100 percent of the funds being raised will go toward helping people with mental illness, anxiety, abuse and related problems.

“None of this money is going to Becky’s family or my family. It will go to help educate, inform and assist individuals. We love everything that’s going on already,” she said, adding she hopes people will consider both donating to the fund and applying for the funding if they need it.

“Anyone can apply. This is the community’s fund,” said Howe.

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