As a boy, Andrew “Drew” Christensen’s drive stood out. He played to win — even at Monopoly.
He started for the Lakeville South High School football team his junior and senior years. He played lacrosse and wrestled, and became engrossed with handball and Olympic weightlifting and competed in triathlons.
By all accounts, he was the face of a handsome, athletic kid who had the same ferocious intensity when it came to art and academics. He loved photography and to draw and paint, and was infatuated with organic chemistry. He desperately wanted to combine those talents to transform the world.
“He was wired to be impatient with the status quo,” said his father, Jeff. “He wanted to focus on the health of people.”
Chistensen died by suicide Nov. 8 after a yearslong struggle with bipolar disorder. He was 25. His parents say that despite ultimately losing their son, he would time and again overcome his demons “to achieve amazing things,” Jeff said. They hope his story encourages others to seek help often and early.
“I want people to know that there are resources out there … there are so many people who have come up to me, there are so many people suffering, and I want to tell them that if you’re a parent or have a loved one, you don’t have to be afraid,” said his mother, Nancy.
After graduating high school in 2010 with a stack of college credits, Christensen wanted to go to the University of Minnesota, but got a letter wait-listing him. That night, he wrote an impassioned three-page response to plead his case. He was accepted a few weeks later. He framed the waitlist letter and hung it in his dorm room.
But for years, his mother Nancy said, her son silently struggled. During a seemingly carefree childhood, glimpses of torment emerged.
“His anger would just get the better of him,” she said.
He felt frustration in his gut, said his father, Jeff, but Drew had trouble explaining it to others. His love would come out in the gifts he would make for his family or the events he planned for them, said his brother, Jon.
He joined the U’s handball team and traveled the country competing. He became a community adviser and a mentor to younger students in his dorm. When he recognized his struggle with depression, he got involved in advocating for the school’s mental health programs. A school provost would later call his parents and tell them that their son and others like him were instrumental in driving more students to get help with mental illness.
Despite successes, he also suffered. He would be hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He soon began recovering, finishing his courses in spring 2016. By May, he got his diploma — then his dream job as a chemist.
By summer, his manic episodes again materialized. It cost him two jobs. He was hospitalized twice in September, after which he seemed more calm and focused. He began sending out résumés. His family hoped he was turning a corner. “But maybe the struggle to get back on top just became too burdensome,” Jeff said.
About two weeks after his death, his parents decided to walk in his final footsteps. They visited the place where he spent his last moments near the U, where they found a handwritten, two-page letter addressed to “the man who left us too early.”
“Although I do not know your name, I love you,” the letter read. “You are missed, you are loved. All of our campus has been affected by your leaving.”
It finished: “Everyone you meet is fighting their own battle. Love each other.”
Along with his parents, Christensen is survived by three siblings. Services have been held. Memorials can be sent to Guild Incorporated, www.guildincorporated.org.
Anyone struggling with mental health or who knows someone who is can call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at 1-888-626-4435.