6 years later, parents continue mental health outreach effort
BRENTWOOD — Speaking publicly about the loss of his two innocent children will always be hard, but Ken Lambert knows he must do it.
"It's not easy to do, but for me personally it's worthwhile to do. People appreciate it," the Brentwood father said.
Six years ago, Ken and his wife, Danielle, were shattered when their only two children, Kaleigh, 5, and Shane, 4, were killed along with their aunt, Danielle's sister Marci Thibault.
The children were on their way to a sleepover at their aunt's house, but during the drive Thibault pulled over to the side of Interstate 495 in Lowell, Mass., and intentionally walked the children into oncoming traffic.
All three were killed in an accident that the Lamberts have blamed on a misunderstood mental illness.
With the memories of Kaleigh and Shane still close to their hearts, the Lamberts have become parents once again and are enjoying the time with their twin 2 ½-year-old boys, Kolten and Sheadon.
But as they rebuild their lives, the Lamberts have remained on a mission that began in the months after their tragic loss.
The couple formed a mental health awareness organization called Keep Sound Minds.
Today, KSM remains committed to the cause and the Lamberts are spreading their message to anyone who will listen.
Ken Lambert spoke to the Souhegan Valley Rotary Club in Nashua earlier this month, and since then has been invited to speak to other rotaries, including another one in Nashua and one in Milford.
"That's a good thing and we're willing to do that as we can throughout the year," he said.
Lambert said it's important to reach out to local civic organizations like Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, and others whose members represent a good cross-section of the population.
"It's a good grassroots way to get the message out about the goals of KSM and talk about mental illness. Most people know nothing about it or very little about it and that's what we're trying to change," he said.
In many ways, the work with KSM and speaking about their loss has helped the Lamberts through the grieving process.
KSM was formed to promote better education and understanding of mental illness, but also to keep the memory of their children and aunt alive.
"That's still important to me. That's a means for me to mention their names," Lambert said.
During his talks, Lambert shares his personal tragedy and the mission of KSM.
"Our club was extremely touched by Ken's story about the loss of his children due to the actions of a family member with a mental illness. It takes a strong person to be able to give this presentation to a group of people on a topic that obviously hit very close to home with Ken and his wife," said Jed Anderson, president-elect of the Souhegan Valley Rotary Club in Nashua.
Anderson said those who heard him speak walked away with a feeling that the tragedy may have been prevented with a better mental health care system in place.
All too often, Lambert said, the family members of the mentally ill are the ones who must offer support.
"We need to know more and do more and do better because that's who ends up taking care of 90 percent of the people who are suffering from mental illness. Most are not in psychiatric hospitals. They're living around us. Some are managing and doing fine and others aren't," he said.
Lambert cited statistics that show one in four adults suffers from mental illness or will experience a mental health crisis.
Most receive no help, he said.
"There are millions and millions of adults that have a problem and most receive no treatment," he said.
Lambert has held other speaking engagements in the past and has others planned this year that will take him to Amherst College in April to focus on mental health issues in the college population.
In April, KSM will also award two scholarships to students in psychology programs at Rivier University in Nashua and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The group is planning its an annual comedy night fundraiser in Saugus, Mass., in Aprinl.
KSM has also hired Lisa Garcia, a licensed social worker, as its new assistant director.
Other work includes serving on the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Massachusetts and in New Hampshire is active on the subcommittee on public policy for the New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Council. One of the goals this year is to improve suicide prevention education within middle and high schools.
KSM has also produced DVDs that are available for free — one geared toward educating the law enforcement community about mental illness and another to help people who are suffering or have a family member who's affected.
"Mental illness doesn't just go away. It won't just get better from doing nothing. You have to be proactively doing something. Maybe it's counseling, medication, or maybe other life changes. Sticking your head in the sand as an observer won't work," Lambert said.
For more information on KSM, visit the organization's website, www.keepsoundminds.org.