Nearly 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, accounting for one person every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organization. Even more alarming: Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds globally. On July 28, 2018, Bill and Dawn York's son, Joshua, became one of those statistics. While dealing with the grief and loss of losing their son, the couple made it their mission to promote suicide awareness and prevention—one painted rock at a time. They started the Facebook group Suicide Prevention Rocks, a community support group that has touched the lives of thousands of people from around the world whose lives have been impacted by suicide.
After Josh's death, Bill and Dawn struggled to find a new normal with their children, aged 5, 10, and 12 at that time. The kids were having trouble processing their grief, so every night after dinner they would sit around and do exercises that encouraged the sharing of thoughts, feelings, and memories of life with Josh.
"I felt we also needed a form of art therapy that we could do together and would allow space and time to connect organically," Dawn explained. It was then she remembered a vacation to Ocean City in 2017 when the family was introduced to rock painting at The Art League of Ocean City and how much they all enjoyed it and interacted with each other. "So I gathered some rocks and paints and thus began a new journey… we started with memory rocks and somehow switched to things we would say to Josh or someone like him."
In early September, the family sat around one evening talking about their grief processing and how healing it had become. "As the conversation moved on to strengthening lives with love through Josh's foundation, it hit me," said Dawn. "I asked Bill what he thought about creating a rock painting group and calling it Suicide Prevention Rocks, and he almost jumped out of his seat."
Bill headed to his computer and created the group on the spot. He asked members to paint rocks with meaningful messages, either directly to their loved ones, or about suicide in general. Then, he asked them to share images of and details about their rocks with the group. Finally, members were instructed to hide them in public places so that other people could find them.
Courtesy Joshua York Legacy Foundation
The message spread fast. In the year since the Yorks started the group, it has quickly gained momentum. "Our loving community of over 15,000 people is across the world on every populated continent, in over 61 countries, and every state across the US," Dawn explained.
On top of the connections made within the group, Dawn admits that one of her favorite things about it is that the members continue to inspire her daily. "The amazing artwork I see and heartfelt messages I read each and every day are often the lift I need to get me over what sometimes feels like a mountain," she said.
In addition to spreading a message of hope and educating the world about suicide and suicide prevention, she hopes that it is encouraging people to make meaningful connections with others, to have real-life conversations, and to learn and recognize the signs of suicide and take preventative actions.
Courtesy Joshua York Legacy Foundation
In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2019, Bill, Dawn and their group will be hosting a Facebook Event, Rock the World, to inspire individuals to paint and write positive messages of hope and healing, using rocks as means of expression, and spreading them around the world along with their inspiring message. Five hundred groups from around the world are participating or preparing their own events in support, and Dawn maintains the potential reach could surpass 4.2 million people.
This World Suicide Prevention Day, consider joining in on the York family's mission. "Your connection could be the one to save a life," Dawn pointed out.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Crisis Text Line provides free, 24-hour support. For help, text HOME to 741-741 for free.