Thousands of Woodgrove High School students and members of the community gathered April 19 to share a message of hope for those dealing with mental illness and suicidal ideation.
You are not alone, and it will get better.
For the second year in a row, the school’s We Are All Human Committee, inspired and co-founded by the Ryan Bartel Foundation, organized a suicide prevention walk.
“This has been an amazing year for me, personally. Just in the last year, five high schools and Monroe Technology Center have started We Are All Human Committees,” Suzie Bartel, Ryan Bartel Foundation founder, said.
In addition to the spread of We Are All Human Committees, Heritage High School and Loudoun Valley High School also organized suicide prevention walks and assemblies, Woodgrove principal Sam Shipp said.
Stone Bridge’s We Are All Human Committee and Broad Run counseling team also attended the Woodgrove walk. Broad Run will host their own suicide awareness and prevention walk in May.
The Ryan Bartel Foundation was created in honor of the former Woodgrove student who too0k his life in 2014. The mission of the organization is to raise awareness of suicide prevention and educate the community about the growing problem.
The foundation started the We Are All Human Committee as a way to foster peer-to-peer networks. The group meets around every two weeks and is open and to everyone, Woodgrove junior Cathy Phan said.
The group focuses on developing coping skills, finding inner strengths, seeking outside help and building connection with other peers and trusted adults. They shared this message with the school and community at an assembly before the walk.
“We have taken some steps and some strides to make sure this is at the forefront of all of our minds to make sure we address this,” Shipp said. “The power of the movement and what you can all do is tremendous.”
A large focus of the assembly was coping methods. Students put together a video showing different ways Woodgrove students handle stress, such as spending time with pets, participating in sports, baking or creating art.
“Challenges will be there your entire life. It’s about how to channel that negative stress into a positive outlet,” Woodgrove senior and event emcee Caleb Blank said.
Four We Are All Human Committee students shared testimonials of how the group helped them.
“Depression is a very serious mental illness and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it because it’s so common,” Woodgrove senior Katie Brantingham said.
For many students dealing with depression, it can feel like things will never get better and no one understands. We Are All Human helps students feel less alone and gives them a space to talk about what they are feeling.
“It’s a safe space to talk about suicidality or depression without being judged,” Woodgrove junior Henry Greenburg said. “It’s important to focus on coping skills and not just suicide.”
Many of the members said they’ve forged strong friendships and even feel some of the other members are like family.
“For every single problem, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel,” Woodgrove junior Tessa Salahi said.
Woodgrove teacher Kent Staneart also shared his story of dealing with clinical depression, saying depression can affect anyone, but still, the resources are there and they can help.
“As adults, we don’t always like to admit our weaknesses,” Staneart said. “I’m so glad people around me helped me.”
Intervention was another focus of the event. Life for teenagers is harder than it used to be, Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall said. With technology, a teen’s successes and failures can live on the internet forever, making support systems even more important.
“You don’t have to hurt alone and you don’t have to watch someone hurt alone,” Randall said. “I’m going to call on y’all to intervene in other people’s lives, to say something to someone.”
“Everyone does laugh the same, bleed the same and hurt the same because we are all human,” she said.
The Ryan Bartel recognizes students who unconditionally help others this way with the Acceptance of Others Award. Students have to have at least two witnesses to acts of kindness and have to be nominated by a fellow student for the award. The nomination deadline is April 30.
Woodgrove senior Puneet Kaur, president of the We Are All Human Committee was surprised with a $20,000 Foot Locker scholarship for her work in the group and academic excellence.
Going forward, Bartel would like to see We Are All Human spread to more schools, including middle schools. Bartel said communities are losing freshmen to suicide which shows students had been struggling since sixth or seventh grade.
She hopes younger students get involved to help change the culture of taboo around mental health.
“Once kids open up, kids came out of the woodwork to open up too,” Bartel said. “I can already see a change.”
For those who need immediate assistance, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day. For the Veteran/Military Hotline call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. When calling 911 for assistance within Loudoun County, ask for a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer.