A Central Texas military teen is using her platform to help prevent teen suicide.
Hayleigh Walker, 15, a student at Shoemaker High School, once tried to take her own life and has used her story to shed a light on one of the leading causes of death among teens.
At the Young Miss Copperas Cove Five Hills pageant last May, Walker shared her story before a live audience and panel of judges in an on-stage interview. Her platform of service in the pageant was Teen Suicide Awareness and Prevention.
“In the past, I struggled with suicidal thoughts and actions," Walker said. "The experience I went through left me wanting no teenager to ever feel worthless or even consider taking his or her own life, because I know now that inside everyone, including me, is someone strong and full of potential, to be valued and appreciated.”
Walker captured the crown and vowed to spend her year-long reign speaking out against teen suicide.
Her work has begun.
On Saturday, Sept. 9, Walker will host a free candlelight walk targeted at teens, but anyone is welcome to participate. The walk will begin at 8 p.m. at the South Park Pavilion, located at 209 S. Dennis Street, Copperas Cove, Texas.
Two hundred teens had already signed up, as of Friday afternoon.
“I want others to learn about (teen) suicide prevention, the effects suicide has on not only the victim’s family and friends but the community they were a part of,” Walker said. “There are ways of preventing suicide. We are encouraging the message that if you or anyone you know has thoughts of self-harm or suicide, it’s okay to ask for help, and that there are better options out there other than suicide.”
The suicide rate for teenage girls doubled from 2007 to 2015, according to a study done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figure was the highest recorded in the past 40 years. Meanwhile, the suicide rate for boys increased 30 percent in the same time frame.
"In 1975, in the United States, there were 1,289 suicides among males and 305 suicides among females aged 15–19 years," CDC officials said. "In 2015, there were 1,537 suicides among males and 524 among females aged 15–19 years."
Personal testimonials will be shared and counselors will be available Saturday. Two butterfly trees will also be at the walk with butterflies for participants to write the name of someone they are honoring or memorializing to hang on the tree.
To sign up for the first Teen Suicide Awareness and Prevention Candlelight Walk, click here.