Nobody knew the inner struggles Sean Locke faced. A star athlete, Sean had successful runs in basketball from his days at Saint Mark’s High School through his time playing for the University of Delaware, where he was a member of the 2013–14 CAA conference championship team that played in March Madness. After graduating, Sean landed a great job with Buccini/Pollin Group in Wilmington. All was well—at least from the outside.
Like many, Sean agonized silently as he fought a losing battle with depression that ultimately claimed his life just weeks before his 24th birthday.
“To this day, I really don’t know how long he suffered,” says Chris Locke, Sean’s father. “That’s the insidiousness of this disease. When you’re dealing with depression, you’re dealing with a disease that kind of paralyzes the patient from getting the help they need. Part of that, I suspect, comes from the stigma around mental health. That has to change.
“We never really got a chance to have that conversation with him because he couldn’t have that conversation,” Locke continues. “Instead, he used the tools we give athletes to power through, to tough it out. Those skills can make you a phenomenal athlete, but they make you a horrible candidate when you have to deal with mental illness.”
Shortly after losing their son, the Locke family looked for a way to best honor his memory, finding vast support among a community deeply touched by Sean’s life. “After learning about the disease, I realize it doesn’t matter what success you have—you can’t ‘will’ yourself out of it,” Locke says. “It’s a disease. And like any disease, you’ve got to talk to a doctor and get the help you need.”
In fall of 2018, they launched SL24, a nonprofit providing young adults with the resources and support they need to cope with mental health struggles. Last fall, the organization opened Sean’s House at 136 W. Main St. in Newark, in the same home where Sean lived while he was a student at the University of Delaware. Open around the clock, the house is a safe haven that offers access to any youth.
“Like Sean, it embraces all who walk through its front door, whether they just want to chat or sit and quietly reflect,” Locke says. “Since we opened, over 950 young adults have sought refuge here, whether through peer-to-peer counseling from other kids who’ve been in their shoes, or from connecting them with mental health professionals.”
SL24 is also developing programming for parents whose children are suffering and has launched a platform where athletes can open up about mental health. “We really want this to become the beacon for mental wellness and mental health in our state,” he says.
“Being Sean’s dad was a great ride. I watched as he succeeded not only in sports but pretty much everything he tried in life. For all his successes, he was an extremely humble kid. Sean was this amazing person who helped so many people,” Locke explains. “I know that he would want the tragedy of losing him to help somebody else. And that’s what we hope SL24 does. We really want this to become the beacon, to really make Sean’s House the lighthouse to mental wellness and mental health.”