Loudoun-based band Hungry on Monday performs at Rock for Ryan.
An eclectic group of Loudoun County residents are taking their grief from a tragedy to prevent another.
On Jan. 9 the Ryan Bartel Foundation hosted the third annual Rock for Ryan concert in Lovettsville. Named in memory of Bartel, who killed himself at age 17, the show raised funds and awareness of teen suicide in order to prevent another lost life.
“Losing Ryan felt like getting hit by a truck. Something like this you don’t know it’s coming,” said Sean Ray, Bartel’s friend and former classmate at Woodgrove High School who helped organize the concert.
“There’s no way around it, of easing your way into it. You have to accept what happened and sit there and say while this happened, I can grieve and be angry, which you can do in an unproductive way and stay in bed all day, or you can show there is something more and you can try and fight against it,” he said.
The event was first put on by Ray and some of Bartel’s other friends three months after his suicide in 2014. This year’s concert featured more than a dozen bands that spanned genres from acoustic alternative to beatdown hardcore.
Ray said it served as microcosm of the Foundation’s goal to bring teenagers together from all backgrounds and social groups.
“The anger and the depression, it really weighs down on someone and people don’t really lend hands, and that’s what we’re trying to do here, lend a hand and say you’re not alone and you can get through this no matter what,” Ray said. “That’s what the event is all about.”
Along with the concert and events like a color run 5K race, the Foundation organizes “We’re all Human,” a student activity group that unites teenagers from diverse backgrounds for peer-to-peer mediation. The group uses interactions between friends as a way to help teenagers navigate adolescence and prevent the pressures that can lead to depression ahead of time.
“We want to do that by empowering the teens we work with to be able to help themselves by figuring out how to do that. By doing that, they’re able to help other kids,” said Suzie Bartel, Ryan’s Mother and a founder of the Bartel Foundation.
Bartel said after losing Ryan, she discovered that peers weren’t sharing their struggles with adults but were telling their friends. With We’re all Human, Bartel hopes to unite students and harness their abilities to help each other.
The organization is currently at Woodgrove, Loudoun Valley, Monroe Tech and Heritage High Schools, and is beginning at Stone Bridge.
Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among teens and it’s been a problem of growing concern in Loudoun. Five Loudoun students took their lives in the previous school year, and just last month a Stone Bridge student attempted suicide on the school campus and later died.
In response, Loudon County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall, who worked for more than 15 years as a mental health therapist, has used her office to increase attention to the issue and hosted a forum on prevention in November. Other organizations like A Place to Be have worked to raise awareness and aid prevention, and organized A Will to Survive, a play based off the life of Will Robinson, another county student who took his life.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe also announced proposals for nearly $32 million in funding to treat mental health and substance abuse as teen suicide has become an increasing focus at all levels of government in the Commonwealth.
“We all have issues, really. And we can’t profile anybody by saying that the girl with the red hair or the pink hair has a problem but the one who looks normal is okay,” Bartel said. “They may all be suffering in the same way, and we’re trying to make sure they realized that no one is alone.”