September is National Suicide Prevention Month.
On September 15, I attended the “Out of the Darkness Walk” organized by Reach4Hope and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) at Bicentennial Park in Cedar City, Utah. With over 400 registered walkers, our little town came together to raise more than $14,000 for this important cause. The money raised for the walk went to the AFSP as well as the community for education and resources.
Beforehand, we wanted to get as many people involved as possible — especially kids. So we did something unique by having children paint inspirational messages of hope onto rocks that people could look at during the walk.
Rock painting has been around for a while, and can be a fun family activity. In my town, and many others around the country, kids and their families paint rocks and then hide them around the city for others to find. It’s a way of brightening someone’s day. There will even sometimes be Facebook groups or message boards where painters can leave clues as to where they hide their rocks and where those who locate them can report their findings.
My husband and I took our three boys to the rock painting event for the suicide prevention walk. It was not only fun, but it also gave us the opportunity to teach our boys about kindness and empathy. We asked them as they were decorating to think about what someone going through a hard time may want to hear, and let them know that they can make a difference to another person.
When it came time to attend the walk, I was pleasantly surprised at the turnout, and impressed by the speeches that were given — including one from professional cyclist T.J Eisenhart. He spoke candidly about his own struggles with depression and his fears that we was “never good enough to excel” in spite of his successful career. His message was one of hope and love, as he expressed that “it’s okay not to be okay,” and that “speaking openly does not make us weak.” He says he has “come to love himself” and that loving ourselves means “you don’t give up on yourself.”
During the walk, I noticed many of the decorated rocks along the path, helping to brighten the way. Many walkers would stop to read the rocks, and some of the kids on the walk would pick up their favorites to carry around.
At one point, I met a group who told me they were there to support a loved one, Wesley, who had attempted suicide last year. Their love and support for Wesley was very apparent, and they even decorated a special rock for their group that they named “Wesley’s Warriors.”
Currently, my home state of Utah has the fifth-highest suicide rate in the country — it also recently ranked as the second happiest state in the nation. It can be a happy place, but for those who don’t “fit the mold,” it can be isolating and painful. Utah is like a glossy Instagram page — picturesque from the outside without telling the whole story.
Ultimately, no matter where we live, it’s up to us to face the difficult issue of the rising rates of suicide. It’s a difficult subject, one we may be hesitant to share with children, but we can involve them in raising awareness in age appropriate ways — like painting rocks with messages of happiness and love that bring hope to all who view them.