Dozens of people, led by local students, joined together Sunday for a socially distanced 5K walk to shine a light on mental health challenges teens have been facing, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Especially right now with COVID," said Audrey Glaser, a junior at Mason High School and an intern with Grant Us Hope. "Teens are struggling and it's been a really difficult time for our mental health."
The 5K walk took supporters around the lake at the Voice of America Metropark in West Chester on Sunday afternoon, led by students and the organization Grant Us Hope, a nonprofit focusing on teen suicide prevention on the Greater Cincinnati region.
Organizers with Grant Us Hope said anxiety, depression and loneliness have been on the rise during the pandemic, especially for young people. The group is concerned about a possible rise in teen suicides and mental health issues and hope to make a difference.
"We want to transform the conversation around mental health and we want to save young lives together," said Suzanna Davis, director of programming at Grant Us Hope.
The organization also works to support student-led Hope Squads that work to provide peer support to prevent teen suicide. The groups, active in schools across the Tri-State, participated in several Walk for Hope events like the awareness walk on Sunday.
"It's so important to keep raising awareness and when you have events like this and people see the participation and stuff," said Taylor Jackey, a sophomore at Mason High School and an intern with Grant Us Hope. "They're probably more likely to become more aware of what's going on or to try and participate themselves."
Davis said Grant Us Hope provides training to help people critically examine the stigmas surrounding mental health in communities, while working to change the conversations to combat those stigmas and support teens and their mental wellness.
"We're not counselors, but we're here to refer and we're here to listen," said Glaser. "We call ourselves the eyes and ears of the school. Being someone who is going to be there for them no matter what."
According to Grant Us Hope, new data shows the number of teens who have recently considered suicide has gone up, which the organization said makes events like Sunday's walk important.
"And the participation is really what we need just to break down that stigma around mental health," said Jackey. "We just need everybody to help."
Another Walk for Hope is organized for 9:45 a.m. Monday morning at Turpin High School and Grant Us Hope plans to hold a virtual ceremony on Thursday to recognize students and community leaders who have stepped up to support the cause.