- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Craig Rydalch entertained suicidal thoughts before, but never to the point of acting on them.

When Rydalch’s home construction business fell on hard times in 2008, stress and discouragement pushed the former Utah basketball player to the darkest depths.

“At that point, I decided life wasn’t worth living anymore,” Rydalch said. “One day, I left my guys at the job site and went to my father-in-law’s barn and tried to hang myself.”

Rydalch survived through what he described as divine intervention.

The husband and father from Oakley in Summit County, is one of nearly 15 million American adults who the National Alliance on Mental Illness says live with major depression and one of 42 million who live with an anxiety disorder.

Rydalch still has moments of despair. But with support from family and friends, his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faith and professional help, he continues to cope with his mental illness.

He has also benefitted from experiences of others.

“If I can help one person from following through with what I almost did,” he said, “then it will make a difference.”

As a young athlete, the 6-foot-4 Rydalch battled feelings of sadness and insecurity. He excelled in football and track and field at South Summit High School, and earned his highest accolades in basketball.

In addition to all-state honors, Rydalch was an honorable mention all-American and Utah’s high school athlete of the year in 1985. Several college programs recruited him.

But his negative thoughts persisted. He remembers telling his girlfriend and future wife, Kena Woolstenhulme, he didn’t want to live anymore.

“It looked like I had everything going for me, but there was no joy,” Rydalch said. “It was just a feeling, but I didn’t know what I was dealing with. She reassured me that everything was OK.”

Rydalch had signed to play basketball for Weber State but served an LDS mission first in England. He continued to battle depression and anxiety for the next two years.

Upon his return, Rydalch redshirted one year and played one year at Dixie College before University of Utah head coach Lynn Archibald offered him the chance to play with his brother Mark, beginning with the 1989-90 season.

As it turned out, Archibald was fired and replaced by Rick Majerus.

“It was his first year, and he was a tough coach to play for,” Rydalch recalled of Majerus. “He would attack you personally, which didn’t sit well with me.”

Rydalch and Majerus reached a truce, and over the next three years, Rydalch was a consistent contributor. He was twice named a team captain, and Majerus described Rydalch in the 1991-92 Utah basketball media guide as “one of the guys who made up the heart and soul of the team.”

Woolstenhulme returned from a mission to South Africa, and they were married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1990.

In the years following Rydalch’s basketball career, the couple had three sons and the pressures of life settled in.

Rydalch stopped going to church, much to the alarm of his wife.

“I would stay at home, lay in bed and stare at the ceiling while Kena took the boys to church,” Rydalch said. “I put on a good face, but I felt like all these people were judging me.”

The gradual decline was hard for Kena Rydalch to understand. She thought of leaving him. She saw her husband as very loyal and tender-hearted, but he also hurt deeply, she said.

“When he stopped attending church, that required a lot of soul-searching,” Kena Rydalch said. “Through a lot of prayer, I came to understand I was the one with the bigger problem. I was always judging Craig without really understanding what was going on. I was more concerned about hauling two kids to church alone and what (the situation) might look like to family members.”

At age 28, Rydalch was diagnosed at University of Utah Hospital with depression and was prescribed medication.

A few years later, his parents contacted University of Utah President Chase Peterson, a close friend. He recommended psychiatrist Gregory Ellis.

For the next 15 years, Rydalch would take medicine, feel better, assume he was fine and discontinue treatment.

He didn’t like the stigma of mental illness. But he also learned that he couldn’t afford to walk away from treatment just because he felt better.

Around 2004, Rydalch started his own home construction business.

Kena Rydalch said a concussion her husband suffered in a work-related accident three years later altered his ability to cope.

“His tendencies to go to these dark places were amplified after that incident,” she said.

With his business in debt during the economic recession in 2008, Craig went to his father-in-law’s barn to hang himself.

What happened next was scary and spiritually powerful, Rydalch said.

“The rope around my neck came untied. Something pulled it off, and I fell to the ground,” he said. “Someone was looking over me, and what I was doing was not right.”

With the support of his wife, family and Ellis, Rydalch resolved to keep going.

The Rydalches sold their home and the 44-year-old Rydalch, his wife and their three teenage sons moved into the basement of his parents’ home.

“I didn’t go bankrupt, but living with Mom and Dad at 44 was somewhat humiliating,” Rydalch said.

His father hired him back into the family business. The Rydalches were able to resolve debts and build a new home. It was not, however, an easy or smooth process.

In 2013, Rydalch was asked to share his story with the church community. Few were aware of his condition. They learned that mental illness affected more people than they realized. He received an outpouring of support and understanding.

Rydalch learned about others who dealt with mental illness and never talked about it.

“It’s a stigma,” he said. “It’s viewed as a weakness rather than an illness.”

A tender mercy was extended during the October 2013 LDS general conference, when Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles delivered a talk titled “Like a Broken Vessel.”

Rydalch described the talk as a “yes” moment.

“I couldn’t believe it. I’ve since read and listened to it over and over,” Rydalch said. “The Savior loves each one of us and he understands. He has felt those depths. It gave me and my family hope.”

Since then, Rydalch has had rough spells, but he said he hasn’t felt this good in 20 years.

“People are suffering, and I want to give them hope,” he said. “There is help.”

“Anyone can be faced with mental illness. When that happens, you have to rely on faith in the Lord, the atonement and non-judgmental support from family and friends.”


Information from: Deseret News, https://www.deseretnews.com

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