Fishers Resident Hikes Appalachian Trail to Raise Mental Health Awareness
Writer / Lynda Hedberg Thies
Each year in this country one million people commit suicide. Sadly, suicide remains the second-leading cause of death for Hoosier teens and young adults in 2014 and 2015, according to the Indiana Youth Institute. Roughly 75 percent of teen deaths by suicide involve teens that suffer from depression.
Depression is a treatable disease. Yet there is still not enough awareness about suicide or prevention.
That was enough for one Fishers resident to decide that he wanted to make a difference.
Derick Walsh decided to combine his love for hiking and tackle the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness and funds for the Peyton Riekhof Foundation for Youth Hope. Walsh did not know Peyton but heard the story as it really shook the community. He eventually came in contact with her dad and he spoke with him about hiking for the charity.
Walsh knew that taking on such a big hike would draw some attention and have the opportunity to raise some money for the charity. The trail measures approximately 2,168.1 miles and goes between Springer Mountain, Georgia and Mount Katahdin, Maine. Hikers can expect to walk between five to seven months to complete the entire trail. Walsh is determined to complete the hike.
“My goal is to raise $11,000 to fund counselors in the HSE school corporation,” Walsh says.
Walsh is hiking alone, but like many who attempt the trail, there are often people that they encounter along the way. He offers insights into the journey that he is taking on behalf of those that struggle to control their thoughts because of depression and don’t seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health issues. This is the reason Walsh seems determined to undertake such a huge hike when asked what he believes people understand about suicide and if this is part of his goal to change perceptions.
“I think people understand very little,” he says. “I think especially in an affluent middle class community like Fishers, many people just don’t understand why people do it. They don’t realize that some people don’t have the neurological infrastructure to feel normal like most.”
His hope is that the money he raises will help the counselors do their work in the schools.
“As we speak, I am writing letters to get companies talking about mental health and providing donations,” Walsh says. “Mental health is something that definitely needs more research, discussion and funding for those in need. I thought I might be able to help, so I went for it.”
Reflecting on the journey up to this point he adds, “I’ve learned to be self-reliant. Out in the woods, there is no one. I’ve learned that your mind is strong when you believe in yourself and know you can accomplish something.”
If you would like to make a donation, visit thepeytonriekhoffoundation.com and help make HSE a better place for all students.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide call 1-800-suicide and 24 hours a day there will be a kind, compassionate voice on the other line wanting to help. Let’s all help Walsh achieve his goal of supporting the HSE counselors and help these teens turn darkness to light.