By Caroline Boras
Woodgrove High School’s We’re All Human group hosted its second assembly and walk today to raise awareness for teenage suicide prevention.
We’re All Human members spoke about their struggles with depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges, and how involvement in the club has helped them work to overcome them.
“This group inspires me to be my best self at all times, and my outlook on life has become so positive,” said senior Katie Brantingham, who joined We’re All Human after last year’s assembly. She said joining encouraged her to get the help she needed and “ultimately saved my life.”
Woodgrove Students partnered with the Ryan Bartel Foundation—named after a Woodgrove student who took his own life in 2014—to form We’re All Human in November 2015. The club started just as Loudoun began to see an increase in suicides among young people.
We’re All Human now has a large presence at Woodgrove, and its members are working to expand it to other schools in the county.
“It’s like we’ve created a small family,” said junior Lindsey Haun of the club.
Suzie Bartel founded the Ryan Bartel Foundation after she lost her son to suicide in October 2014, three months shy of his 18th birthday. She’s worked with students to establish We’re All Human groups in six high schools in Loudoun and is currently trying to establish the programs in middle schools.
“We’re losing freshmen, and that’s not all of a sudden,” she said. “We need to address this much earlier on.”
The students involved in We’re All Human at Woodgrove visit other schools to share their stories of recovery and to encourage others to speak up when they are struggling.
“Teens listen to each other first before they listen to any adults,” Bartel said, which is why an assembly like this is so important for the students. “All these other kids came out of the woodwork [after last year’s assembly] who had never spoken up before about what they were struggling with, and they do it because they can see the courage from their friends, and they realize that it’s okay if I raise my hand and say ‘I need help.’”
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), who’s worked as a mental health therapist, also spoke at the assembly, emphasizing the importance of talking to people about mental health.
“You don’t have to hurt alone,” she said. “And you don’t have to watch someone hurt alone.”
The assembly, which featured testimonials, videos and performances by members of We’re All Human, left an impact on the freshmen who had never attended an event like that.
“It was a very powerful message, to the freshmen in particular. It was our first year seeing this,” Hayden Anderson said. “Technically, it’s the end of the year, but it’s a good way to start our experience in high school, to be aware of all of this fully.”
When We’re All Human’s members are not organizing the assembly and walk or visiting other schools to establish new clubs, they hold drives to change campus culture.
“I don’t see many cliques anymore,” Brantingham said. “I don’t see anyone sitting alone at lunch.”
Haun agreed and said, “it’s more friendly. We’ve come together and made new friends and everyone is a lot nicer and more open.”
Principal William S. Shipp praised the students for forming a group that deals with a subject that is often considered taboo. He thanked the other schools for carrying on the message in their communities.
“This is something that we started here, but something we should not singularly have at Woodgrove…the power of a movement and what you all can do is tremendous,” Shipp said.
Loudoun Valley and Heritage High Schools both held assemblies and walks today, and students from Stone Bridge High School and Broad Run High School attended assembly at Woodgrove. Broad Run is planning to put on a similar event next month.
“We need this in every school,” Bartel said about We’re All Human. “We’re just touching the surface right now. But I can sense and see change. You can feel it. But we need every school to jump on board and do the same thing. If we can do that—if every high school and middle school can do the same—then we can actually turn Loudoun County around. We’ve had too many suicides.”