Provided by Prince William County Schools (PWCS)
You Are Not Alone. This is Not the End. These were the messages conveyed during the fifth annual Suicide Awareness Walk on Saturday, May 18. Holding hands and holding signs of hope, students, families, and other community members made the six-mile walk from Forest Park High School to Hylton High School and back in support of removing the stigma associated with mental health and suicide.
This service project was born five years ago when students in Forest Park teacher Shannon Geraghty’s AP Government class set out to raise awareness about mental health issues and suicide prevention. According to the organizers, suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens.
“When I look at the tremendous effort and spirit my students put into the Suicide Awareness Walk, I am filled with pride and joy,” said Geraghty, who has served as the faculty sponsor for this event each year. “I see students struggling every day in class with mental health issues and my classes are consistently willing to put all that emotion out there to help end the stigma. They are brave, empathetic and motivated.” \
The Suicide Awareness Walk
“The Suicide Awareness Walk is super impactful because it touches many people very personally,” Forest Park senior and student organizer Isabell Neall said. “It highlights the importance of ending the stigma surrounding mental health, as well as the importance of being kind and choosing your words carefully and purposefully.”
Before the start of the walk, current and former students shared personal stories and explained why this event was important. Hannah Kolkmeyer, 2015 graduate of Forest Park, lost her cousin to suicide and proposed the idea for Suicide Awareness Walk. That first Walk in 2015 drew 400 people. Hannah came back to speak to the nearly 1,000 people at this year’s event.
“This walk helps give a voice to those who can’t speak,” shared Kolkmeyer. “The death of my cousin taught me to listen more than talk, watch my actions, and be conscious of my words.”
Superintendent Dr. Steve Walts, along with School Board Vice Chairman Justin David Wilk and Gainesville District School Board Member Alyson Satterwhite, attended the event to show their support in bringing attention to this critical issue that has impacted the lives of so many students. Special guest speakers included United States Congressman Gerry Connelly and Virginia Senator Jeremy McPike.
“The pressures of school and societal pressures are so much and way heavy on young kids still finding their ways and developing,” Kolkmeyer told the crowd. “It’s ok to admit when your mental health isn’t ok and to ask for help because someone will always be there to help you walk once you stand.”