Teen’s death inspires mental health awareness walk

Ottawa County

ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Folks gathered Saturday morning for an event in Zeeland aimed at raising awareness of mental health issues and suicide prevention.  

Organizers for the Love and Lean Walk for Mental Health Awareness were inspired by Zach Kroll, a Zeeland East High School sophomore, who died by suicide in 2015. Kroll’s family decided to channel their grief into advocacy and has organized a walk for the past three years.

“I had a dream one night, and it was Zach’s voice saying ‘love and lean.’ So, the walk kinda came out of that, and we wanted to raise awareness for mental health,” said Lori Kroll, Zach’s mom, and Love and Lean event organizer.

Walk organizers are partnering with the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan to bring the “be nice” program to Zeeland Public Schools.

“Our programming is where we come into a school and instruct and teach about mental health awareness, suicide prevention,” said Christy Buck, executive director of Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. “I know that depression is treatable and suicide is preventable.”

Buck notes 50% of mental health disorders start by the age of 14, which is why it’s important to talk to young people about those issues.

“In four lessons, the students are instructed to notice, invite, challenge and empower. A lot of focus needs to be on that notice, so people know what to look for in the way of signs and symptoms of the onset of a mental health disorder,” Buck said.

The Kroll family plans the walk each year to help people and ensure Zach’s legacy lives on.

“He’d be right here helping if it was someone else in another situation,” Lori Kroll said. “Being a part of something bigger than just our grief is very healing.”

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