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Thousands of Loudoun County students rally for suicide prevention

Suzie Bartel, from the Ryan Bartel Foundation. Her son Ryan took his own life in 2014. Times-Mirror/Chantalle Edmunds
Students from three Loudoun County high schools stepped out of class Wednesday to join a walk to raise awareness for youth suicide and suicide prevention.

At least five Loudoun County Public Schools students took their lives last year.

The event called “We're All Human” was staged at Woodgrove High School in Purcellville for the first time last year. This year Loudoun Valley High School and Heritage High School also took part, with more than 5,000 students participating altogether.

Before the walk at Woodgrove, Principal William Shipp opened a special assembly, stressing to struggling students that they “are not alone.”

Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) took the floor to talk about the challenges facing today's youth compared to her generation, particularly through the Internet, where “people can bully you and say negative things online that they wouldn't say to your face,” she said.

“It's important to support one another. You don't have to hurt alone,” Randall added. “We all laugh the same, we all feel the same, we all bleed the same, because we are all human.”

Several students shared testimonies. Katie, a senior at Woodgrove, talked about moving to Virginia four and half years ago and the feelings of loneliness and health issues she experienced, and how she had contemplated taking her own life. She said she found solace by joining the school's “We're All Human” group.

Holding back tears, Tessa, a junior, talked about her struggle with depression and being bullied during her freshman year. “My friends and family were my biggest supporters,” she said. She spoke of how she went through therapy twice a week for two years.

A video urged those gathered to “activate your source of strength to get you through the hard times.”

“We’re All Human” is sponsored by the Ryan Bartel Foundation, a youth-led, peer-to-peer group that meets regularly during the school year to promote awareness and support for those dealing with anxiety, depression and suicidal behaviors. Ryan Bartel was a Woodgrove High School student who took his life in 2014, just a few months before he would've turned 18.

Ryan's mother, Suzie Bartel, praised other high schools in the county for talking part in this year's walk and acknowledged representatives present from Broad Run and Stone Ridge High Schools who have formed their own “We're all Human” support groups.

Speaking to the Times-Mirror, Bartel said students are more likely to listen to other students than adults and how important it is to have peer support.

“We're losing these kids at an epidemic rate like there's never been before, so we have to address it head on,” she said.

Nearly 2,000 students took part in the walk at Woodgrove High. Times-Mirror/Chantalle Edmunds


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