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Atlanta man shares battle with mental illness & suicidal thoughts

At 28 years old, Kyle Behm has his music, a good job, and a message.

"It is okay to reach out," Behm says. "It's so okay to reach out."

That's something Behm was afraid to do in the spring of 2010, when, as a sophomore at Vanderbilt University, he began having mood swings, and strange thoughts.

"I thought maybe it's just the stress of school getting to me, " he says.

But by the fall of his junior year, things were unraveling.

"I was starting to have hallucinations, and my delusions were growing stronger and stronger," Behm says. "Like, for example, for about 3 months, I was pretty convinced that I was actually dead already."

And Behm began to believe he could speak without words.

"(I was) Having conversations with my secret body language with strangers, that didn't actually happen," he recalls.

When he stopped going to class, his grades plummeted.

"Then the shame comes in, the shame of knowing that something is wrong with me," he says. Behm says he began to think about suicide.

"I thought, 'This would just be easier if I killed myself,' he says. The idea began to nag at him.

"You just think, 'If I have all these things worrying me. All these things confusing me. Wouldn't it be easier to just let go? And just disappear?'"

Finally, Kyle emailed his mother Ellen Behm.

"And I told her I was having suicidal thoughts," he says.

Behm traveled to Nashville the next day. She had lost her father to suicide about 20 years earlier.

"It was frightening, but I think it also sort of put blinders on me, of this is not happening, this is not going to happen to my son," she says. "He is going to have care."

Kyle withdrew from Vanderbilt, and, after a psychotic episode, was hospitalized, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or manic depression.

"For the first 21 years of his life, if there was a problem that Kyle had, I could fix it," says Roland Behm.

But the Behms realized they could not fix this. So, they found Skyland Trail, a non-profit mental health treatment facility in Atlanta with an outpatient program, where Kyle, for the first time, could speak openly about what he was feeling.

"It was no longer accompanied by the thought, 'I should be ashamed for thinking this. I'm wrong for thinking this," he says.

Skyland Trail's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Raymond Kotwicki, a psychiatrist, says if you suspect someone is struggling or depressed, take it seriously.

"It's a great idea to say, 'Hey, I know that when people are in tough situations, they think about suicide as a way out of a tough situation. Are you thinking about suicide?' Dr. Kotwicki says. "And, we know that by asking that question, you don't introduce the idea into somebody's head, who is not already thinking about suicide."

After completing his treatment, Kyle Behm went back to school, graduating with an engineering degree from Mercer University.

"It took a long time," he says, looking at his diploma on the wall.

Today, he takes medication and texts his counselor when he needs to. The intrusive thoughts still come back from time to time, but now, he can let them go.

"I don't have to address them," he says, "I don't have to validate them. I don't have to act on them."
And Kyle Behm is sharing his story for the first time, for anyone suffering in silence.

"Please, please, reach out," Behm says. "And, just talk about it, and when we talk about it, we can finally do something about it."