Communities that Care: Out of the Darkness walk breaks down stigma of suicide, depression

I am a survivor. These four words carry such a huge meaning. For some, the words signify strength, determination and power to overcome tough situations. However, for survivors of suicide loss, they carry a very different definition.

To me, “I am a Survivor” symbolizes sorrow, loneliness and hope.

• Sorrow, for I will never have the chance to say goodbye to my sister.

• Loneliness, for few understand what it’s like to experience sudden tragedy.

• Hope, for, together, we can open the doors of communication, help those in need and end the stigma.

Almost three years ago, my sister, Jana, completed suicide. I always will remember the day, the phone call, the moment that my life forever changed. Whenever there is sudden death, there isn’t time to prepare or to say goodbye. In an instant, you are left with your world turned upside down, searching anywhere and everywhere for answers that you’ll never find.

I wish I could say that we were one of the few families to have this experience in Centre County but, sadly, that’s not the case. There were 12 confirmed suicides in Centre County during 2013 and 19 in 2012, leaving hundreds of community members affected by suicide.

Suicide is preventable. More than 90 percent of the people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder; however, due to the stigma attached to mental illnesses, many who need help don’t seek it. That’s a tragedy.

If someone fell and broke a bone, they would immediately go to the hospital, get help and in a few weeks be on their way. With mental illnesses, that’s not the case. People worry they will be judged, considered weak or even be discriminated against at work and in their communities.

Feeling suicidal is not a character defect or a sign of weakness. It means that an individual is experiencing more emotional pain than they can cope with at the moment. The pain can be overwhelming and can lead to feelings of hopelessness. Those thoughts can happen to anyone at any point in their life.

As a community, we must come together to increase awareness about the nature of suicide, learn to acknowledge and improve our attitudes toward those affected by suicide, and help those who are struggling.

Let’s start this journey of understanding, acceptance and healing together. At 1 p.m. Sunday, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will host its 2014 Out of the Darkness Walk at Sidney Friedman Park in State College. On this day, local and national organizations, survivors of suicide loss and suicide attempts, students, and community members will join together to remember, to heal and to help combat suicide.

It’s time. Time to break free of the stigma. Time to make help available to anyone in need. Time to make a difference. Everyone deserves help. Everyone deserves hope.

Visit www.afsp.org for more information on suicide prevention and the Out of the Darkness community walks.