Stories of mental illness and of loved ones lost to suicide transpire in conversations among the area residents and students who unite each year for the Hope for Happiness suicide prevention walk. This year the event will take place on Sat., March 25 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Registration for the walk begins at 9 a.m. at the Hiram College Kennedy Center, located at 11715 Garfield Road in Hiram. To participate in the walk, the cost is $5 for students (those who pre-register will receive a drawstring backpack) or $15 to also receive a T-shirt. The cost is $10 for community members (those who pre-register will receive a drawstring backpack) and $20 to also receive a T-shirt.
After the walk, participants are invited to gather for a pancake brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Hiram Kennedy Center. The cost for the breakfast is $5 in advance and $7 at the door for students; and $8 in advance and $10 at the door for community members.
Proceeds from Hope for Happiness, now in its fourth year, support the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Portage County and the Suicide Coalition in Portage County. To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/hc-hope-for-happiness-walk-2017.
At the event, stigmas of depression and suicide are replaced with hope and community support.
“We keep the walk upbeat. It’s about inspiring hope,” said Cara Constance, a professor and chair of biology, and founder of the Hope for Happiness event. “As bad as things may be, people care and understand and are there for you.”
Constance said her goal for the walk is to build a sense of community.
“If you have a group that understands what you’re going through, when you’re in low times, you’re much more likely to seek help than you would feeling ostracized and alone,” she said.
One in four adults experience depression in their lives, Constance said. Despite its prevalence, depression often goes untreated, particularly in children.
“Children and teenagers don’t always get the support or treatments they need. Their parents may not be educated about depression and psychological services for children are lacking,” Constance explained.
To help heighten community awareness about mental illness and suicide prevention, students from area high schools will distribute informational materials and other giveaways along the walk route. Crestwood High School students, for instance, will promote the importance of natural meditation through planting and will pass out small gardening kits. Windham High School students will lead activities centered on bullying and sexual/gender orientations. Meanwhile, students from James A. Garfield High School will sponsor an art-and-craft table at which event-goers can express their personal feelings on painted rocks.
Furthering these conversations, guest speaker Paul Granello, an associate professor of counselor education at The Ohio State University, will present a keynote address at 10 a.m.