After losing Ethan to suicide, his parents co-author “Ethan’s Healthy Mind Express.”
Photos courtesy of the Bean Family
When Erik Bean’s 17-year-old son, Ethan, died by suicide, he was enveloped by a dark shroud of grief and guilt.
For years, Bean and his wife, Stacey, who lived in Farmington Hills, had tried to help Ethan, who struggled with behavioral issues due to mental health disorders that included autism, psychosis and ADHD. Finally, no longer able to bear his ongoing pain, Ethan ended his life on Aug. 24, 2018.
“As a parent, you feel like a failure,” Bean said. “You think about all the things you could have done.”
After attending a program sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the couple and their daughter, Blair, began participating in a local support group for families who had lost a loved one to suicide. There, Bean met other survivors who had found that giving back to their communities helped ease their grief.
Bean was receptive when Emily Waszak, a local author with whom he had previously collaborated on two classroom curriculum books, proposed they co-author a children’s book on mental health.
Bean had spent most of his career in higher education as a professor, researcher, curriculum designer and textbook author. Acknowledging there was a shortage of mental health curriculum geared toward young children, he agreed to take part in the project. Bean and Waszak enlisted longtime family friend Sherry Wexler to serve as editor.
“At first it was a therapeutic device that got me out of my stupor and moving forward,” Bean said. “But it also had the potential to serve a much more useful purpose, to have a wider positive impact.”
As the book began to take shape, the team recruited local tutor and former elementary school teacher Gail Gorske to do the illustrations. Described on its cover as “A Children’s First Mental Health Primer,” the book depicts seven relatable young characters who struggle with various challenges such as self-doubt, learning disorders and behavior issues. In honor of Ethan’s love of trains and his April 3 birthday, the story is structured around a train called Engine 403. Seven children, whose names were chosen by Blair, board the train to deal with their respective issues. Stacey, a social worker, contributed her knowledge of children with atypical behaviors.
In 40 pages of catchy rhymes and 19 full-color illustrations, the book addresses topics such as coping with difficult emotions, being kind to those who may appear different, and seeking support from parents and other safe adults. It also has a section on internet safety, including the dangers of the dark web.
The book premiered Nov. 23, 2019, which is International Suicide Survivors Day. It is the first official project of the Ethan Bean Mental Wellness Foundation, a nonprofit organization the Beans established a year after Ethan’s death. The organization is dedicated to removing societal stigma and improving acceptance and support for those with mental health issues by creating awareness and providing educational resources.
“Kids who are anxious, depressed or who have ADHD or ASD (autism spectrum disorder) can really struggle … I’m pleased to see a children’s book addressing mental health and reminding kids that there are safe people to talk to when their feelings are too big for comfort,” said therapist and former special educator Judith Lipson.
Proceeds from the book will be used to sponsor other educational initiatives at local elementary schools and to motivate government officials to support mental health initiatives in schools and juvenile correction facilities. Future plans include a hardcover version for libraries and other institutions made possible by contributions to the Ethan Bean Mental Health Fund at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield, where the Beans belong.
While Bean and his team brought the book to fruition, he saw Ethan as the guiding force throughout the process.
“Ethan is the foot soldier,” Bean said. “His voice is driving the message that we have to do more about mental health. Helping to mitigate the struggles of other ‘atypical’ people is a way for his legacy to live on.”
Ethan’s Healthy Mind Express is available through Amazon.com in paperback and an electronic Kindle edition, and online at the Self Esteem Shop in Casco, Mich., https://selfesteemshop.com.
For more information or to donate to the Ethan Bean Mental Wellness Foundation, visit
ethanbean.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential 24/7 support. Call 1-800-273-8255, or text 741-741.