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. Here, the stigmas of depression and suicide are replaced with hope and community support.
Hope for Happiness founder Cara Constance, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of biology, describes the walk, which will take place Saturday, March 25, 10 a.m.- 1 p.m. at the Hiram campus, as one of promise.
“We keep the walk upbeat. It’s about inspiring hope,” Constance says. “As bad as things may be, people care and understand and are there for you.”
Constance says 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 says.
Far from alone, one in four adults experience depression in their lives, according to Constance. Despite its prevalence, depression often goes untreated, particularly in children, she says. “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 explains.
To help heighten community awareness about mental illness and suicide prevention, students from area high schools (members of the Health Professions Affinity Community, or HPAC, formed to advance the health and success of students and their communities) 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.
“The message being, that this expression, how you identify yourself, should be your foundation to get through the day. In other words, it should be your rock,” says Hope for Happiness Hiram College student volunteer Timothy Hatfield.
Hatfield, a Northeast Ohio Medical University AmeriCorps member, understands, personally, how mental illness affects families and lives. He describes his childhood, much of it spent caring for his mother who struggled with mental illness.
“She often tried to harm herself and tried to commit suicide a few times,” says Hatfield, a junior majoring in sociology and public health. “I was often the one who helped her calm down, and called for professional help and was her caregiver. When she passed in 2012, I knew I had to give back anyway that I could.”
Hatfield says that mental illness cannot be pushed aside. “It is something that affects everyone in some way,” he says. “This walk helps people focus on the importance of mental health … It helps shine a light on the stigmas placed on suicide and mental illness and helps wipe those stigmas away … It’s important to have conversations about it.”
Furthering these conversations, guest speaker Paul Granello, Ph.D., associate professor of counselor education at The Ohio State University, will present a keynote address at 10 a.m.
Registration for the walk begins at 9 a.m. at the Hiram College Kennedy Center, 11715 Garfield, Road, 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. For more details and to register, visit www.hiram.edu/hiramhope.
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.