A 5K on World Suicide Prevention Day in remembrance of a Michiana native honors those who died by suicide

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GOSHEN, Ind.,-- September is Suicide Prevention Month. September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, is a day a Goshen mother will never forget: the day her 20-year-old son took his own life in 2016.

This year, for Leslie Weirich, September 10 will mark six years without her son; but in that time, she has kept Austin Weirich’s legacy alive.

“We lost our 20-year-old son Austin to suicide. And on the two-year anniversary of his death which would be September 10, 2018 World Suicide Prevention Awareness Day, the co-captain of his football team at Wabash College also died by suicide,” said Weirich.

According to Weirich, who is a suicide prevention specialist at Oaklawn, in the state of Indiana, two to three people take their own lives each day, adding up to 60 to 90 people per year. That's like losing two to three classrooms of people. In Elkhart and St. Joseph counties, more than 50 people have taken their own lives this year alone.

“51 people who did not need to die,” said Weirich. “Those are not 51 people who died by cancer. Those are not 51 people who died from heart disease. Those are 51 preventable deaths. And so it’s very, very important now that we are coming out of the pandemic that we get out and we start fundraising for mental health and mental health programs throughout our community.”

Weirich now speaks in schools to students about wellness, resiliency and hope, things that are imperative for someone to have in times of crisis. She not only shares her story but she teaches young minds about their own minds and how to use practical tools that can save a life.

“We don’t want to reach our kids in that moment of desperation,” said Weirich. “We want to move upstream. We want to get them. And teach them resiliency and give them these tools how to hang on and how to cope with the stress of life gets to be overwhelming, so they make better choices than the one my son did and the one Evan did.”

Saturday morning’s 5K will raise funds for mental health education and resources and toward the Austin Weirich Memorial Scholarship, which has donated $20,000 over four years to students at his alma mater, Goshen High School. It allows any student there to pursue a degree in the mental health field. These degrees would include areas like clinical social work, clinical counseling and clinical psychology, which Leslie sees as a much-needed resource.

“We’re in a mental health crisis,” said Weirich. We do not have enough therapists, enough clinical social workers. We need more and more people to go into those fields of study to help the hurting people in our nation right now. And right now, Indiana is ranked 27th in the nation for suicide, so we can do better.”

The 5K will also include a wellness fair, partnered with the Goshen Parks Department, Goshen Health System, and Oaklawn to promote mental wellness, reducing the stigma about mental health and more. The event takes place at Fidler Pond Park in Goshen from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday, September 10. You can learn more about the event here.

For more on the Weirichs’ story and suicide prevention resources, visit Leslie’s Hope.

If you or a loved one is facing a mental health crisis, call or text 988 for immediate help.

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