Sixth annual ‘Take Strides to End Teen Suicide’ march kicks off in Richland

RICHLAND, Wash. Hundreds of community members came out Wednesday night to walk in the sixth annual “Take Strides to End Teen Suicide” event at Fran Rish Stadium in Richland.

The event started back in 2015 after students in Richland High School’s (RHS) broadcasting class asked their school counselor about ways to prevent school suicide. After the interview, Chandra Markel, now a counselor at River’s Edge High School, talked to the administration about the topic.

Soon after, the entire school district banded together. There were assemblies, lessons for students, and then the march was born.

“I think it’s important to raise awareness because so many kids are hurting and carrying around trauma,” Markel said. “They think that they’re alone and they have nobody to talk to and they have to bear that burden by themselves. Sometimes they feel like suicide is their only option.”

RELATED: World Suicide Prevention Day: Resources are available in Yakima, Tri-Cities

Now the event is open to the entire community, not just students. Organizers encouraged eventgoers to wear yellow for suicide prevention. Attendees also used the hashtag #TakeStridesTC on social media.

Markel said in 2019 between 500 to 1,000 people showed up in Richland. In 2020, schools as far as Walla Walla participated in the event held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

September is also National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

“But it’s bigger than just the month of September,” Markel said. “It’s always about talking to our kids, asking the important questions, and being involved in their lives.”

In Washington, suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10 to 24, according to the state Department of Health. Nationally, it’s the third leading cause of death.

Kimberly Starr, a suicide prevention advocate, lost her son six years ago when he died by suicide. Now, she works with multiple organizations to help others learn what signs to look for and what questions to ask.

“[We can help] by normalizing the conversation about suicide, but not the act of it, by using constructive and non-judgmental language when talking about mental health, suicide, and suicide ideation,” Starr said. “When we talk about suicide openly without judgment it creates safe spaces for people who are experiencing those thoughts so that they can express them which then allows for potential intervention.”

Starr added that while it might seem self-explanatory, one of the “first and best questions to ask is, ‘how are you?'”

“I know we use that in our society as kind of a throwaway greeting but I’ve learned to really look at someone and say ‘how are you?’ and then listen to their answer. If you have a sense that something might be off, explore that further,” Starr said.

Additionally, Starr said to remember the acronym: ACT (Acknowledge, Care, Tell).

  • Acknowledge: that you’ve seen the change in somebody
  • Care: Let them know you care about them and you’re concerned
  • Tell: Tell them resources available to them if they’re experiencing suicide ideation

“People think that suicide can’t happen in their community or in their family. We certainly felt that way as parents and so awareness helps people realize that mental illness and suicide ideation touches a broad range of people,” Starr said.

RELATED: FCC approves 3-digit suicide prevention hotline

A total of 82 area codes in 35 states are moving to ten-digit dialing on Oct. 24th, 2021, in preparation for a new Suicide Prevention Lifeline, according to the FCC. The three-digit code, “988,” will forward calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The 988 code is not currently in operation, but those needing assistance can still reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK). Online chats and additional resources with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be found here.

To students or anyone struggling with mental health, Markel said, “We hear you, we see you, you are loved, you’re not alone, and we’re here to do everything we can to help you see that suicide should never be an option.”

RELATED: Community turns out to walk in support of suicide prevention