The annual two-mile walk known as the Husky Help & Hope (H3) Walk hosted by HSPA and Forefront Suicide Prevention took place last month. The event was held on campus and began at the Sylvan Grove and moved through some of the scenic areas on the UW Seattle campus.
“I’ve been to charity walks in the past, but I have never walked away feeling so connected to my community or so inspired to work harder for a solution,” HSPA member Carter Osborne said.
HSPA and Forefront hoped to create connections with the community and to provide educational training for people to recognize those in need and to safely guide people to appropriate community resources.
“The student speeches were particularly moving,” Osborne said. “Hearing my peers give honest, vulnerable accounts of their personal struggles gave me a renewed sense of belonging. You don’t get that from just any event. This one was special.”
Not only did families and friends of those who died by suicide or survivors showed up but also people who supported the cause and wanted to be part of the walk.
“I was struck by the diversity of people in attendance,” Osborne said. “There were high school students, nonprofit leaders, and even people who have absolutely no connection to UW. The reach of HSPA and Forefront evidently extends far beyond what I imagined, and that gives me hope for future successful events.”
The conversations spurred from the walk allowed those who may not have understood suicide or what it means to talk about why people attempt or die by suicide, to get the chance to do so in this safe space.
“I was moved by some of the people who shared their reasons for walking as well as hearing from others as we made our way around campus,” HSPA Program Director Andy Pace said. “There was this overall feeling of unity and community as we walked as a big group.”
In addition to the training, people participated in the Drug Take Back. The Drug Take Back program aims to provide a convenient, safe, and responsible means of disposing prescription drugs while simultaneously educating the public about the potential for abuse of medications.
“As first responders, we are always concerned about student safety on campus and one of the things that falls under that are people in crisis,” Lieutenant Douglas Schulz said. “One of the means for somebody that’s in crisis to take their own life is narcotics. Historically, it’s been pretty hard to get rid of narcotics.”
In Washington, over 150 suicides were attributed to medications in 2015. Since then, King County has placed kiosks around that allow people to get rid of their narcotics and these locations are found here and are accessible to all. Additionally, in Olympia, Governor Inslee signed House Bill 1047, also known as the Secure Drug Take-Back Act, into law earlier this year.
“One of the reasons why the DA hopes to get rid of prescribed narcotics is to prevent suicide and because people get high from them,” Schulz said. “It’s not just students but adults too. This program allows people to get rid of their narcotics whether it’s still good to use, invalid, or expired.”
Only a few people had participated in the Take Back and so the total weight of drugs collected was fairly modest. However, on Saturday, April 28th, in just four hours, Washington state residents dropped off 17,018 pounds of medicines during the 15th National Drug Take-Back Day.
“Take-Back is great for a number of reasons,” Schulz said. “Prescribed narcotics can get abused; you can accidentally OD from it; you can get hooked on narcotics that are prescribed to you, and coming from the view of Forefront, [the program] takes one of the avenues away for people to take their own lives.”
Additionally, according to the Take Back Your Meds website, “63 local law enforcement agencies in Washington provided 70 collection sites. The April 2018 event brought in about 2,000 more pounds more medicines in Washington than the events held in 2017. Nationally, almost a million pounds of medicines were collected – 949,046 pounds, which is 475.5 tons.”
“I mean how can you not be in favor of Drug Take-Back?” Schulz said. “Anything that actually assist somebody in crisis, really.”
Many communities in Washington have ongoing medicine drop boxes at pharmacies or police stations, and there are three on the UW Campus alone. The purpose is to have these drop boxes available any day for safe medicine disposal.
“This year reminded me of how prevalent the issue of suicide is in our own community,” Pace said. “Even as a member of a mental health advocacy group, you don’t tend to hear people’s stories and experiences until they are given a platform to express it.”
During the walk, people were able to hear from those who lost loved ones. Additionally, the color coded ribbon system and ceremony showed who had been directly affected by suicide and how closely related they were to that person.
The success of the event was not captured in the funds raised or pounds of drugs received in the Drug Take Back program but the unity and awareness generated from the walk and the conversations around suicide.
“Working around the stigma that is associated with mental health, whether it’s yourself going through it or a family member, it is very difficult, especially in my line of work, there’s a stigma if I’m going through some issues with my mental health,” Schulz said. “The more we can talk about it and break down the barriers and let everybody know the resources that are out there and the resources that are needed, the better.”