A new mission: Communications professional turns attention toward mental health

A new mission: Communications professional turns attention toward mental health

  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
July 16, 2019 10:32 PM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports

Reggie Burton is used to telling stories. Other people’s stories.

As a longtime gaming industry communications executive, Burton has spent his career handling corporate matters, casino issues, and gaming diversity topics with ease and professionalism. In his boutique public relations firm, Burton represents a mix of clients from a variety of industries, and he communicates their messages, with similar expertise, to media and other audiences.

Nothing in Burton’s career, however, could have prepared him for having to tell the story of – and the reasons behind – the suicide of his 22-year-old son.

“I wrote this book to help educate people about a serious illness,” Burton said in the introduction of This is Depression.

Writing the book served as a healing process for Burton, 52, and his family – “Team Burton,” which includes his wife, Ann, and younger sons, Amani and Aden.

The events of the last two years have given Burton a new mission. His goal now is to “add my voice to a much-needed conversation about mental health and depression.” The book, Burton tells readers, emphasizes that “the struggle with mental illness is real and doesn’t discriminate.”

Avery Burton died in July 2017, two months after graduating with honors from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His plan was to work toward a doctorate in physical therapy. He took his own life after suffering from a major depressive episode.

Burton, who was a journalist at the Reno Gazette-Journal just after graduating college, immediately returned to his reporting and investigative skills in an attempt to understand what had happened to his son. What he learned astonished him.

Mental health issues and depression affect approximately one out of every four college students.

Reggie Burton

“It was difficult to write this book, but I was determined to not let my son’s passing be in vain,” Burton said. He self-published the 68-page book in collaboration with Rushmore Press.

“Depression does not discriminate,” Burton said. “I wanted to show that mental illness can impact anyone or family, regardless of background. By sharing my personal experiences, I hope to empower those impacted by depression to find their voice and remove the stigma associated with this deadly disease.”

To that end, the book has chapters dedicated to helping friends and family understand the loss of a loved one, the steps involved in the healing process, and a list of 13 things readers should know about depression.

I’ve known Reggie Burton as a colleague and friend for the past three decades. He is a valuable and knowledgeable gaming industry resource. Over the years, we shared in the accomplishments of our children and our love of sports – he was once a public relations intern for the then-San Diego Chargers.

Like many of his friends and colleagues, I first learned of Avery’s passing from Reggie’s Facebook post.

And, having known and witnessed Reggie’s tenacity and determination to understand a myriad of issues involving both his clients and the larger gaming industry over the years, it was clear he wanted to understand the reason behind Avery’s death.

What Burton discovered went beyond Avery. Of those college students who suffer from depression, one in seven are male; the suicide rates among young adults ages 15-24 has tripled since the 1950s; and 1,100 suicides occur at colleges every year – 7.5 per 100,000 students.

“A few weeks after Avery passed, UNLV announced it has increased tuition … by $25 to help increase support staff for mental health counselors,” Burton wrote. “Why? The average wait for a student needing an appointment was 4-6 weeks.”

But Burton doesn’t cast blame. That’s not what This is Depression is about.

“By opening up and sharing my story from the most painful period of my life, my hope was not to let his passing be in vain,” Burton wrote. “To help other parents and families, potentially saving lives. To bring awareness to depression and mental health issues.”

Burton and his family founded the Avery R. Burton Excellence in Academics and Sports Memorial Scholarship and the Avery Burton Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to mental health outreach.

This is Depression is available as a paper back on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Proceeds from sales of the book will go toward the scholarship program.

Burton authored the book under R. Avery Burton. Avery is his middle name, which he gave to his son. Avery was often referred to as “Kuya,” the Filipino word for big brother, by the family.

Burton’s email signature now contains a message, a quote from Avery: “I don’t have weekdays in my calendar – only strong days.”

(For those in Southern Nevada, Reggie Burton will have a book signing from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at 567 North Stephanie Street in Henderson.)

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at hstutz@cdcgamingreports.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.