They came, They spoke truth, told their stories & experiences about themselves, family members and friends battling with mental illness and some of their peers who lost the battle to suicide.
It was an emotional day in Woodstock Ontario, but also an exciting leap in the right direction when students from every high school in the city came together to orchestrate a 'walk out' to raise awareness for youth suicide. Students from Huron Park Secondary School, St. Mary's Catholic High School, Woodstock Colligate Institute ( WCI ) and Collage Avenue Secondary School (CASS) and Notre Dame High School flooded the streets at 9am as they started their walk out heading to Woodstock's Market Square. Signs being held high reading " One minute we're here ; The next we're NOT! ", shirts purple in colour with white semi-colons ( the universal sign of support for mental illness ) worn by most students and purple balloons blowing in the wind came down the main street in Woodstock (Dundas St.). Cars seeing the signs and large groups of students honking their horns repeatedly to show their support for the movement.
So far this year in Woodstock, 5 teens have taken their lives, it is being called " Suicidal Contagion " and over all there has been somewhere around 36 attempts or youth thinking about it. Bulling and school stress have been thought to be some of the contributing factors to why this is happening.
Upon arriving at Market Square, there was a massive sea of students, parents, media and on lookers gathered around awaiting the arrival of the students. Each high school in Woodstock had a school representative leading the group, and who would be speaking at the gathering for their school. 300-500 people were in attendance to show their support for the Youth, clapping, yelling out positive comments like " we love you ", " Stay Strong ", " You are the cure ".
Once the students arrived in Market Square the song " Fight Song by Rachel Platten " was being played loudly over the PA System which was the "theme Song " for this movement... you could feel the energy build with the students wearing Gigantic smiles as they walked up the middle of the crowd overwhelmed to see how many people came out to support them.
Each student representative took their turns telling their story to the crowd. Stories of suicide attempts, thoughts about it and losing friends to suicide. Following the students, Woodstock's Mayor Trevor Birtch had some honest words for the students, words of encouragement and letting them know they are part of the solution!
I applaud these students, a high amount of respect for being able to get up in front of so many people and talk about their experiences. Talking publicly about mental illness breaks down barriers and shows others it's ok.. speak out and get help. I have been hearing a lot of negative comments such as " why walk out of school? how does that help anything.. kids are just using this unfortunate tragedy to get out of school " .... and to those people, I shake my head. If you had been there you would see how much these teenagers care, what it meant.. the work they put into this, and lets not forget.. these teens have lost their friends, and friends of friends as well as family members. As for " How does this help?" It brings the issue into the media. It allows millions of people to see whats going on, bringing in the awareness causing people to ask questions and ask the government why nothing is being done and puts the pressure on for something to be done. These students not only showed up to talk about the issue, but they came with a plan! Put Social Workers in the schools so kids have someone to go to and talk to right away. Open beds in the hospital to kids under 16, as the hospital does not have that option right now. Last but not least... it shows other youth who may be struggling that they can talk about it.. "it's OK to not be OK". It also shows them that they are not alone, there are other youths out there struggling and getting help, talking is the answer!