EATON — Luminaries lined Seven Mile Park on Saturday, Sept. 14, as families and loved ones walked to remember those who have died by suicide.
The annual Walk to Remember, Walk for Hope Suicide Prevention Walk brought together those affected by mental illness and gave families the opportunity to remember those they’ve lost.
This year, there were 96 participants registered and $5,161 dollars raised.
The Walk to Remember, Walk for Hope Suicide Prevention Walk was originally created by Terri Hundley-Widen, who was at the time a senior at National Trail. As her senior project she focused on suicide prevention. Now, years later, she and her family still support the walk.
This 5K walk exists to remember those who have lost their lives to suicide and to promote suicide awareness, education, and prevention measures. The funds raised help suicide prevention programming in all five Preble County school districts.
According to Michelle Gebhart, owner of Gebhart Counseling Solutions, LLC, suicide prevention programming has recently been expanded to include all students in grades fifth through 12th.
“We felt like, kids younger and younger are talking about suicide,” she said. “We go in one day, we educate students on the symptoms of depression — that is the leading cause of the suicide crisis — warning signs for suicidal behavior, and what they can do if they feel they are struggling with depression or thinking about suicide or they know their friends are.
“We know students hear about it first, when other students are thinking about suicide, so we want them to be equipped with the knowledge to be able to take that to an adult within the school,” she added.
They also offer follow up counseling for any student who wants to talk to a therapist after they’ve completed the program, according to Gebhart.
As for why it is important to have this programming in the schools, Gebhart explained, kids are suffering from depression and are considering suicide as an option.
“We have kids dying by suicide. We lost two students last school year in our county to suicide. Kids are struggling. We have about 26 percent of high school students and 22 percent of middle school students who score at risk for depression when we do a screening of them. [Last year], we had six percent of middle school students and nine percent of high school students report attempting suicide.
“Getting the information, equipping them with tools, talking about suicide and depression – depression is, again, the number one risk factor for suicidal behavior and it is an illness that is treatable. If we can treat depression, we can prevent suicide.”
Every year the Favorite and the Roach families raise money to donate for the walk. This year, they raised $2,000 in memory of Dylan Roach.
“Every June we have a benefit for our grandson, who passed when he was an eighth grader. Each year, it gets bigger and better. We have it for him and this year we raised $2,000,” Sandy Favorite said. “It is just so wonderful they’re trying to get more people involved to try to help these younger kids.
“We are really trying to help. This is the fourth year we’ve donated. People can come out and learn [about suicide] and talk to people. They’re going to try to help.”
Not only can families walk in remembrance of their loved ones, but they can leave a luminary behind. These are bags that have lights in them families can purchase and write the name of their loved ones on. When they walk through the woods, the families are able to distribute the bags where they want, in remembrance of those they have lost.
For Preble County Mental Health and Recovery Board Executive Director Amy Raynes, it is precious to be able to walk the path and see the luminaries lit in honor of those who have died by suicide. She added, this walk means a lot to the families who have been affected by suicide and depression.
“The reason we do the walk every year is to promote suicide prevention, both for adults and for children. We’ve had two suicides in our youth in the last year. It is really important that we keep this in the forefront of our minds,” Raynes said.
“I think [Walk to Remember, Walk for Hope] means a lot to the families who started the walk in the first place, but for all the families who have had lost since, I think it is important for them to realize we value them and we value trying to prevent this from happening again.”
Gebhart added, “We need to educate our community. We need to bring our community in with our efforts. We can’t just go in to the school, do one day of programming, and expect that we’re going to address the issue we have here in Preble County and across the country.
“We need the help and support of the community. We need financial support, to continue with the efforts, but we also need people to talk about it. The more we talk, the more people can reach out and get help if they need it.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH