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Breaking the Silence

by Brooke Buchanan

Each year, 44,965 Americans die by suicide, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (ASFP). The Mountain State is the 11th ranked state for the greatest number of deaths by suicide; it is the 10th leading cause of death in the state, and in West Virginia, one person dies from suicide every 24 hours.

With September being National Suicide Prevention Month and Sept. 10 being World Suicide Prevention Day, the Mid-Ohio Valley works to raise awareness for suicide.

The Mid-Ohio Valley Out of the Darkness Community Walk is one of the events put on locally to raise awareness. It is going to take place Sept. 22 from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. at City Park in Parkersburg. “The idea is to raise awareness, provide support for people affected, share resources and raise funds through donations” co-chair of the walk, Liz Ford, said.

The West Virginia Chapter of the ASFP sponsors walks throughout the state. The Mid-Ohio Valley walk is put on by the local chapter, Ford said. “The core of the Out of the Darkness Walks, the Community Walks created a movement. Held in hundreds of cities across the country, they give people the courage to open up about their own struggle or loss, and the platform to change our culture’s approach to mental health,” Ford cited from the AFSP website. Click here to find a walk nearby.

Ford works alongside Dr. Heather McCarter to put on the event. “I previously worked on public relations for the event but took over as co-chair this year. Next year I will act as chair and Heather will continue to advise me, but be able to step back a little from the day to day planning. Heather is showing me the ropes and making me aware of all the components that go into planning a successful event,” Ford said. “Heather is a great coach and has taught me a great deal over the past few years. She lost her sister to suicide and has a passion for raising awareness, providing resources and supporting people who are struggling and their family members.”

Although similar to the Relay For Life walk used for cancer awareness and the Memory Walk of Alzheimer’s awareness, suicide is a subject that is associated with a stigma. “People are often reluctant to talk about suicide and depression as well as other mental health challenges. We know that by talking about suicide and depression we can help people know that they are not alone, that resources are available, and that people do care,” Ford said.

“Walking with Christian” will be one of the teams at the Out of the Darkness Walk. Christian Morris passed away from suicide on July 23. He was entering his senior year at Parkersburg South High School; he was a member of the crew team and had plans of joining the Marines after high school. “He was boisterous, he was fun and adventurous. He hated to see people sad and did everything to make them laugh,” Jeannie Goff, Christian’s mother, said. “Christian stood up for what he believed in and he didn’t blink an eye to tell someone what he thought about anything. He stood up for those he loved, and he was a wonderful son and loyal friend who faced a struggle that he didn’t win.”

Goff believes that together we can make a change. “I see the students at the high school making their own statement as they sort through their own grief and try to make sense out of such a senseless act,” Goff said. “Christian’s personality touched many lives, and as each of them struggle to understand, they too want to increase the awareness and help other students.”

Goff offers advice for anyone feeling depressed. “Depression wears a person down and it makes them believe things about themselves that aren’t true. Most kids are afraid to talk about it, because mental illness is associated with a negative stigma,” Goff said. “I would tell anyone who is struggling with depression or ideas of self harm, to talk with someone. Kids should find an adult they trust. Together they can find appropriate help.”

Goff started a blog on Facebook, “Walking with Christian,” to help herself and her daughter grieve. Here, she posts daily updates in order to see that she is progressing. “I didn’t know that other people would like the page or even follow it. I didn’t realize that my discussions could help anyone else. So, I don’t hope for it to be anything more than just that— a page for me to write down my thoughts and feeling so that I can get through the hardest experience of my life. And if it helps someone else, that is an added bonus,” Goff said.

People who are suffering from depression are not alone. “There are resources in their community. There are people who care. I encourage them to reach out and ask for help,” Ford said.

ASFP also offers advice which can be found on their website. Some of their advice includes taking care of your health, finding a mental health professional, joining a support ground and talking to people that you trust. A full list of support can be found here.

“Life is sometimes harder than what we can manage on our own. Faith in God, and love from friends and family is what pull us through,” Goff said. “But you have to understand the problem before you can help; that’s what this is all about.”

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