Updated: Sep 15
Carrying the weight of untold stories, many in the Belmont community walked through campus to start this year's suicide prevention week.
The Belmont University Walk to Prevent Suicide, was hosted in conjunction with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“There’s always been so much shame behind suicide and families living with that and not wanting to talk about it,” said Colleen Pertile, from Columbia, Tennessee. She came to the walk in support of her son, Ryan Pertile, who died from suicide a little over a year ago.
He was a veteran, having served in Afghanistan.
“If you could stop one person from making that choice, that’s kind of what this is about,” she said.
Pertile was joined by her family and son’s military recruiter, Canaan Beeman.
“There’s always a support system, no matter if you think there is or not,” said Beeman. “You just have to be willing to talk. You have to be willing to be open, because that’s the number one thing people don’t want to do.”
Beeman, having his own personal struggles with suicide, urged people to talk to others and have those hard conversations.
Echoing that thought was Briana Browne, the only known survivor of many who have jumped off the Natchez Trace bridge in Franklin, Tennessee.
“There are so many people that do struggle with mental illness,” she said. “It’s really amazing to see everyone come together. I wish I had this type of support in college. It could have made a really big difference.”
The event was full of people from all over Tennessee and beyond, from families such as the Pertiles to Belmont students.
MacKenzie Cickert, a senior, said she had her own personal struggles with suicide. Along with family and friends, she was happy to see the community come together, she said.
“Even though it’s just walking around, it’s nice to be around people and give support to others,” she said. “It’s honestly really beautiful. I know that sounds super cliché, but it’s not every day you see so many people with different ages and ethnicities and different walks of life come together for a singular cause.”
Organizing this event and others on campus this week is Tiffany Cooper with Belmont security and Sally Dodd with Belmont event services.
Both women have been affected by suicide.
“Coming from Campus Security, our big thing is we want everyone to feel safe coming to us,” said Cooper.
She said she wanted students to know there is no stigma in talking about feelings and that it’s OK to reach out and ask for help.
“We want to be here to help because there’s a lot going on,” she said. “Knowing that other people are here who you can talk to, or have even been where you are, that’s a big thing.”
Paul Augustyniak from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention was the keynote speaker at the opening ceremony. He echoed Cooper’s thoughts on the importance of reaching out and finding support.
“I want to thank you for being courageous,” he said. “I want to thank you for joining us and supporting those who may struggle.”
The Belmont Walk to Prevent Suicide was the kickoff event for Belmont’s suicide prevention week.
Other events this week include Building Belonging with Belmont Veterans, hosted by the Office of Hope, Unity and Belonging; Managing the College Transition, hosted by counseling services; and Suicide Prevention Week with Sharde Curry, a chapel event on Friday.
This article was edited on Sept. 12, to include a photograph from the Walk to Prevent Suicide
This article was written by Katie Beth Cannon