Greenwood senior’s emphasis on suicide prevention awareness leads to annual walks and high school awareness
Consecutive suicide prevention awareness walks at Greenwood High School have raised $9,000 with the help of students, families and adults in 2022 and this year.
This year’s walk took on an extra dimension because of a unique tailgating experience that highlighted mental health awareness Friday night before the Decatur Central-Greenwood football game Sept. 29 before the suicide prevention awareness walk Sept. 30, also at the football field.
Greenwood High School senior Ava Smith organized and coordinated the last two annual walks. She has lived through her depression and is now helping others along the way. An estimated 150 participants took part in this year’s walk to raise suicide prevention awareness and funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
“The walk helps destigmatize mental illness and promote mental health,” the determined Woodman senior said. “When I took part in my first walk two years ago in Indianapolis, I realized I wasn’t alone. So many people rallied around me. I know others are not alone; there is hope out there for you.”
Her emphasis on suicide prevention came from the realization that unchecked depression can lead to a downward path of drugs, alcoholism, and even suicide that is the 11th leading cause of death in Indiana.
Showing maturity beyond her years, Smith professes, “Don’t make a forever mistake on a temporary feeling; no matter how dark it is, you will be okay.”
Her experience with depression began as a sophomore when she suffered a double shoulder injury and had to go through extensive rehabilitation. The injuries forced her to miss volleyball and softball seasons. Although still working through a nagging injury, she is hopeful of returning to the softball field for this her senior year.
She recalled, “Everything was flipped and that touched off anxiety and depression. I was struggling (mentally) but I didn’t ask for help for a long time. I tried to deal with depression on my own. I struggled, I started slacking in school. The injuries took my motivation away. Fortunately, I had family support and discovered new support.”
She finally had turned to family and friends who helped her from spiraling downward.
“The pressures are on students to perform and that’s why we need to talk about mental health,” she observed. “Students don’t talk about it and need to eliminate the persona that you are weak as a student. So many students turn to the bad things, drugs or alcohol. The right resources are out there to affect how to cope.”
“It’s okay to be lonely but never to be alone.”
During the interview, Smith emphasized that students can help other students who have suicidal thoughts by:
*Knowing the suicide crises hotline (988) for yourself and others.
*Lifting them up by showing your pride in them to give them strength.
*Helping them develop “little victories” by encouraging them to do things they enjoy doing.
*Walking with them on sunny days.
Smith explained that organizing the walks has been a great experience: developing an outline for the walk to present to the high school administration for approval; coordinating efforts with the AFSP, especially in obtaining t-shirts, bracelets, glowsticks, magnets, and other promotional items; obtaining preliminary financing; reaching out to friends and students to help with the walks; speaking to a crowd; meeting with Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers; and doing TV interviews with Channel 13 and Fox59.
She was assisted by her mother and high school friend Lilli Vazari last year. This year, she added the help of about 20 students and began planning the event earlier.
“Some of the experiences were scary and super-stressful, but I learned a lot from the walks,” Smith observed. “Students have said how much they enjoyed the walks. I’ve discovered that I enjoy helping people more so than myself.”
The tie-in one week ago with the week-long Mental Health Week at the high school and the free community tailgate was a joint effort of Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Greenwood Education Foundation, Greenwood Athletics, and Bring Change to Mind created a mental health emphasis in addition to the suicide prevention awareness walk.
After graduating, Smith wants to attend college and major in criminology for an eventual career with the FBI. However, her experiences with suicide prevention and mental health may lead to another path.