A few of the members of the Huskies for Suicide Prevention & Awareness (HSPA) pose for the Speak Up Project. Photo courtesy of HSPA.

Why We Walk: The HSPA stories behind upcoming H3 Walk

While Husky, Help, and Hope (H3) grant ended late March, its tradition lives on: Footsteps will pound the University of Washington campus pavement for the Husky, Help & Hope (H3) Suicide Prevention Awareness Walk on May 20 – the fourth annual student-produced event since the first walk in 2014.

Beginning with check-in at 10:30AM, opening and closing ceremonies will take place at the beautiful Sylvan Grove and Columns. But more than just getting from Point A to Point B, the walk is about the talk – a healing dialogue.

“I am more than just depression,” says Hannah Jeong, HSPA’s education outreach director shared though the UW Speak-Up Project, a mental health awareness campaign, that uses storytelling to deconstruct stigma. “I walk to break down stigma around mental illness.”

For Huskies for Suicide Prevention and Awareness (HSPA) volunteer coordinator Mikaela Schilling, it’s to commemorate her friend Christopher Nguyen and uncle Larry Flood, both of whom died by suicide. “I also walk because I have anxiety and depression and continue to struggle with suicidal ideation. I believe these parts of myself should not be swept under the rug.”

For HSPA vice president Varchita Alishetti, who is on the walk’s event flow committee, “my experiences with my own depression and anxiety and coping with my mother’s paranoid schizophrenia motivate me to advocate for mental health awareness and educate the community to practice self-care and seek professional help/resources.”

Different reasons bring HSPA members to the starting line, but a shared goal gets them to the end of the 2-mile route: Drawing 1,000 attendees to the walk, and raising $10,000 in proceeds to empower college campuses to take sustainable action to end suicide. With donations, faculty, staff, and students will be taught the skills to intervene to prevent suicide with compassion. Groups like Huskies for Suicide Prevention and Awareness will be able to carry forward the mission to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide.

By the community, for the community

The H3 Walk delivers a scenic 2-mile loop with views of many UW landmarks. Actual route is a slight modification for wheelchair accessibility.

The H3 Walk delivers a scenic 2-mile loop with views of many UW landmarks. Actual route is a slight modification for wheelchair accessibility.

Strong collegiate student leadership is driving this event, says Liliya Shtikel, Forefront’s MSW practicum student and project lead on the H3 Walk.

That includes eight students on the event flow committee, as well as several Huskies managing concurrent roles on the design committee, social media committee, and the outreach committee.

“The H3 Walk’s mission is to spread suicide prevention and awareness to the community, so the community outreach committee is involving as many community members as possible in preparations,” said Shtikel. “It’s also about setting a model that other schools can follow. Other students have asked us how they can replicate this event on their campuses.”

HSPA is working closely with Forefront to manage the many details of this annual walk, which last year saw 700 attendees and raised over $8000 to go towards HSPA’s suicide prevention programming.

Proceeds will support programs and resources such as:

  • Forefront Cares packages
  • Resources for LEARN™ curriculum training on campus
  • Funding HSPA as a club
  • 2018 H3 Walk
  • Other future HSPA projects (e.g. booths at Red Square, club costumes)

Inspirational program, speakers

“We are contributing our strengths to our committees to help make the walk a greater success, and to connect us to the communities they are involved in as well,” said Alishetti. “This brings different identities and perspectives to the planning process to help make the event inclusive.”

Event speakers for the inspirational program include:

Elaine Walsh, a child/adolescent psychiatrist-mental health clinical nurse specialist who joined the Forefront staff as a liaison to four schools in the Forefront in the Schools program.

Shannon Gu, HSPA event coordinator, will also share her story, which is “something that I have never shared publicly due to fear of judgment, and organizing and attending the walk is a way for me to be open about my story and my support of mental health advocacy.”

Shira Rosen, Forefront’s director of school and higher education programs, will make closing remarks about steps for suicide prevention education and how to be advocates in destigmatizing mental illness.

HSPA is currently seeking a fifth speaker to speak about marginalization and mental health.

Sponsors, donors and volunteers vital to H3 walk

The Speak-Up Project is a mental health awareness campaign by HSPA, which seeks change by means of the powerful medium of storytelling.

A recent fundraiser at the University Village Chipotle donated close to $150 in proceeds to HSPA. The 2017 H3 walk also would not be possible without contributions from local businesses as well as individual, sponsors, and donors, which currently include: Abbey Arts Seattle, Fran’s Chocolates, the Intramural Activities Center, KIND Snacks: KIND Healthy Snacks & Granola Bars, Paint the Town, Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar, Zoka Coffee, Starbucks, Paper Source, Katie Simmons, and John Hall.

“We’re excited to have more UW-based groups be represented at this year’s walk,” said the outreach committee, which anticipates about 15 mental health resource tables, including: VA Puget Sound Health Care System, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, NAMI Seattle, UW Peer Health Education, Teen Link, SARVA, Forefront, UW School of Nursing, Circle of Friends, UW API Cares, Samuel E. Kelley Ethnic Cultural Center, and UW Hall Health.

Lastly, volunteers are vital to ensuring that this large-scale event runs smoothly and safely. All H3 volunteers must attend a volunteer orientation, which includes training on sensitively interacting with loss survivors and individuals living with mental illness. Volunteer tasks range from meditation booth to walk guides to videography and set up and take-down on Rainier Vista.

From May 13 to May 19, C89.5 FM, a station owned by Seattle Public Schools and operated in Nathan Hale High School, will run announcements about the H3 Walk.

Ultimately, this event is a social movement sending a message: That mental health is a priority, not a privilege.

“We’ve created systems that marginalize and shame people with mental illnesses instead of giving them the love and humanity they deserve. The good thing is, since this is a perception we as a society created, it means we can destroy it too. I walk because mental illness is NOT shameful, and I refuse to let that narrative persist,” says Amber Midori Conley.

Click on the Eventbrite registration page to sign up for the walk (either individually or in a team). There is no registration fee, but donations are appreciated.

Co-written by Huskies for Suicide Prevention and Awareness, and Forefront Suicide Prevention