Mother shares son's story to raise suicide awareness
GOSHEN, Ind. -- “By the world’s standards we would say Austin was an overachiever,” says Leslie Weirich, Suicide Prevention Specialist and Austin’s mother. “He graduated with above a 4.0 from Goshen High School with weighted honors, ran track and played football all four years he was there. He actually was the president of his freshmen, sophomore, junior, senior class, a member of the Fellowship of Christian athletes. If there was a club or activity, he was in it and that carried onto college. He attended Wabash college, and Austin played football at Wabash.”
“On September 10th of 2016, which will be 5 years tomorrow, our son Austin took his life, and it has changed our lives, and set me on a path to realize this problem is too big,” says Leslie.
Every 8 hours, we lose someone to suicide in the state of Indiana. To put this into perspective, by the end of the day, someone will have lost a son, a mother, a daughter, a brother, a friend.
September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day, but for the Weirich’s, it marks a day they’ll never forget.
“I do not want people to think that suicide can never happen to their family, because if you ask anyone in our community, they would tell you that about my son 5 years later and people still cannot believe Austin Weirich took his life. So we have to get people to realize that suicide is the great equal opportunity offender. It does not care what zip code you live in, it does not care the color of your skin, your background, your socioeconomic group, it impacts us all,” says Leslie.
Just a little over a year after losing her son, Austin, Leslie made it her mission to end the stigma surrounding mental health. She joined the team at Oaklawn Community Health, and she began sharing her story to students and parents, then even furthering her drive for change by starting Leslie’s Hope. But she does not just share Austin’s story, Leslie educates youth specifically about brain development.
The pre-frontal cortex is the portion of the brain tasked with higher level reasoning, and decision making, but it is not fully developed until the age of 27. Leslie teaches teens about the ‘Not Okay App’ and text crisis hotlines for kids to turn to in moments of emotion and isolation. It is all in an effort to save more lives, no matter how difficult it might be to relive her family’s pain and heartbreak.
“If I waited until I was not a grieving mom to tell my story, I would probably never tell my story,” says Leslie. “I am always going to a grieving mom”
Sadly, World Suicide Prevention Day, also marks a somber day for the loved ones of one of Austin’s teammates, too.
“I would like to say that was the only loss that Wabash College had, but on the two-year anniversary of Austin’s death, World Suicide Awareness Prevention Day in 2018, the co-captain of Austin’s football team, a beautiful young man out of Carmel, Indiana, Evan Hansen also died by suicide,” says Leslie.
Evan Hansen had been playing tackle football since he was 7 years old. Following his death, his family discovered he had a CTE diagnosis from repeated blows to the brain. Now his parents and the Weirich’s, lean on each other through this grief.
“And they have a wonderful foundation, the Evan Hansen Legacy Foundation, and on Saturday Chuck and Mary Hansen, they will be with us at the 5K to walk in memory of both of our sons.”
This Saturday the Goshen Community, friends, teammates and family will come together to walk in the Austin Weirich Memorial 5K. All of the proceeds will go to Austin’s Memorial Scholarship Fund at Goshen High School. The scholarship is given to people with a passion for mental health, something that Leslie hopes will encourage others to join her fight in ending the stigma, and saving lives.
“So, what I want everyone to be aware of is suicide can happen anywhere to anyone at any age, so we need to make sure, all of us in the community have resources and are working on our mental health and funding our mental health and making sure everyone has access to mental health resources.”
Register for the 5K and learn more about Leslie’s Hope here.