The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Mountain View High School hosts third annual unity walk for suicide prevention

Mountain View High School (MVHS) hosted its third annual unity walk for suicide prevention last Friday, March 15, featuring pieces from students and community members, including speeches, spoken word poems and songs. Students and families also had the opportunity to meet with representatives from various mental health-focused organizations such as Bring Change 2 Mind, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, City of Mountain View Teen Services, HEARD Alliance, and Spartans Pause.

Ambassadors, a leadership class on the MVHS campus, partnered with Los Altos High School’s Student Community Leadership (SCL) class to hold this event. Three MVHS student suicides occurred in a span of three years from 2019 to 2021, and in response, Ambassadors students created the “Unity Walk” in 2022 — previously known as “Out of Darkness Walk” — to bring together community members and mental health organizations and show solidarity for the cause of suicide prevention. Mental Health Awareness Week culminates in the Unity Walk, which takes place on the MVHS campus throughout the week.

Many people who attended this event had experienced the loss of someone they knew closely, bringing more than awareness to this cause. To them, it was a time when they could grieve for loved ones with a community of people who support them and share their feelings.

“One of [the tragedies] was my student, so I vowed to myself as a teacher and educator to do everything in my power to make sure that no more students felt that they weren’t supported,” Ambassadors teacher Lauren Camarillo said.

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“I lost one of my best friends to suicide when I was younger, so this is something that means a lot to me and a cause I care a lot about,” Unity Walk participant Nate Olmstead said.

“I’ve known families whose kids have died by suicide and I think the more we can have such events is meaningful to spread awareness,” Independent Therapy Dogs, Inc., Incorporated volunteer Archana Upadhyay said. “You never know what the person next to you is going through, so I think just taking away the stigma and making people aware is how we can all, as a community, help others.”

One of the programs present, The View Teen Center in Mountain View, offers a safe space for teens to hang out after school and offers free student services. To people who’ve struggled with mental health in high school, like The View Teen Center employee Gabrielle Viera, MVHS ’17, the support that the center and the Unity Walk now provide touches their hearts, seeing students feel more at home.

“[The View Teen Center] got me through many hard times — [it was] the safest place to go outside of my home,” Viera said. “So the fact that I can give back and help a lot of kids really just means the world to me. It’s like a full cycle. I love being a part of it.”

“Little me would just be so happy to see that conversations about mental health and suicide are starting because when I was struggling, I felt like I was so in the dark,” MVHS Ambassadors senior Kelly Kokka said. “Mental health [used to be] too taboo to talk about, but seeing that there are events that are putting the spotlight on the issue of The Mental Health Crisis and people are showing up and want to support the cause is what I’m happiest about.”

The event’s original mantra is “No Spartan should walk alone.” As MVHS Ambassadors sophomore Aria (Rani) Sindledecker put it, nobody should ever feel alone, and everyone should realize they’re in this together.

“It’s like joy, sorrow, sadness and grief all at the same time,“ Rani said. “I think that it’s a reminder that just because [the string of suicides from 2019 to 2021] was years ago doesn’t mean that [the danger] is not still there.”

“Looking around and seeing hundreds of people here just shows that the whole community is in it together,” Camarillo said. “Suicide is preventable, but it does take an entire community effort. Just knowing that everyone here is going to leave knowing more than when they came means everything to me.”

One of the organizations in attendance — Independent Therapy Dogs, Inc. — came with well-loved therapy dogs; Mocha was their representative that day. With no need for language, dogs like Mocha exude a sense of calmness and help alleviate students’ sadness and anxiety.

“I’ve seen some kids seeing Mocha and saying, ‘This was the best part of my day!’ and I think she just invites them to pause,” Upadhyay said. “Everybody just takes a minute and forgets about the fact that they had a hard day or exams. They just forget about everything [for a moment] and get to relax right here.”

Viera said that she never had access to these resources as a student, nor did she see the love and support that the community offers students. She explained that even then, it was taboo to say that she needed help or something more than just what the regular school offered. As a former student, Viera said she’s sure she would have benefited a lot from an environment and activity like the Unity Walk.

“I think the smiles on everyone’s faces and being able to just talk to each other [are some of the best reactions I’ve seen today],” Viera said. “Because when something isn’t taboo, you feel a lot safer to talk and have friends. It just helps everybody.”

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Kathleen Zhu, Staff Writer
Matthew Diederich, Senior Writer

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