Suicide prevention walk held at Heritage Center
CHESTER — More than 150 people gathered at the Chesapeake Heritage and Visitor Center at the Kent Narrows on Saturday evening, Sept. 17, in support of those affected by suicide as well as a common goal of erasing the stigma surrounding mental health diseases. With organization booths, a silent auction and a DJ playing music across the lawn of the property, people waited for the start of the third annual Out of the Darkness walk.
Beads of white, red, gold, orange, purple, silver, green, blue and teal were worn around the necks of participants of the 3-mile long walk, each color representing a different reason for why they were walking. Red meant the loss of a spouse or partner, orange the loss of a sibling and green to signify a person struggling with mental illness or having attempted suicide.
Eddie “The HITMan” Hitt, DJ for the event, played songs of hope before the walkers began their journey along the Cross Island Trail and back. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, host of the community walk, Chesapeake Voyagers Inc. Wellness and Recovery Center, and the Eastern Shore Crisis Response Services were a few of the organizations handing out information before and after the walk.
Prior to the walkers heading down the road to pick up the trail, Patricia Kotzen, a member of the Maryland chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, spoke to the participants about the importance of community walks and gatherings.
“I really believe that we are making strides,” Kotzen said. “...I think that we are starting to create a culture that’s smart about mental health and about suicide, and this doesn’t happen over night.”
Kotzen said that people informed about mental health and about suicide know it is disease just like diabetes or cancer. But for the rest, she said, there is still a great stigma surrounding mental health illnesses as well as with suicide. Kotzen said that if stigmas were eliminated her son, who committed suicide in 2010, might still be here.
“We’re here to demonstrate that suicide is preventable. It has finally been deemed a public health emergency and we are coming together ... to try to decrease the stigma,” said Carol Masden, director of the Eastern Shore Crisis Response Services. “It’s a goal that I have and that our agency has that just as if someone were to have fallen and broken their arm and to have a sling on it that there would be no more stigma for that person with the sling on their arm than there would be for the person who seeks mental health or addictions treatment.”
Kotzen said that the funds raised through the event as well as from donations, totaling about $15,000, will help fund research into mental health and suicide prevention, developing initiatives to prevent suicide and well as create awareness and education initiatives.
For those walkers who lost someone to suicide, “your presence here honors the memory of those that you have lost,” Kotzen said. Kotzen said it helps to look around and see all the people with the same color beads to know that they are not alone, that other people have been affected too.
“It impacts us all, whether we are 4 or 14 or 44, 84 or above,” Masden said. “It doesn’t matter the socio-economic status; it doesn’t matter our race; it doesn’t matter our religion — it can impact us all .... We also all can be a part of the prevention.”
A sign posted on the lawn with statistics from the Center for Disease Control stated Queen Anne’s County has 11.86 suicides per year per 100,000 people. The state and national averages per 100,000 people are 9.8 and 12.97, respectively.
Masden said the number of crisis intervention team officers on the Eastern Shore is growing. Crisis inter vention teams provide trained specialists to respond to emergency calls regarding suicide. If someone is calling law enforcement for someone experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis, she said, they can now ask for a CIT officer.
“We’re here to demonstrate that suicide is preventable,” Masden added.
The VFW Post 7464 of Grasonville donated $2,000. Kotzen said there is a high level of suicide among veterans in the United States.
Other sponsors included Chesapeake Bay Beach Club, Jim’s Lawn Ser vice, Pointshoot Photography, Channel Marker, Devito Mechanical Services, Life Crisis Center Inc., It’s the Pits, Strategic Consulting Alliances, Positive Negatives Photography, Minuteman Press of Kent Island, Mid-Shore Behavioral Health, Hitt Productions, LLC, and Blanchard’s Aerial Photography.
Learn more about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at www.afsp.org.
Follow Mike Davis on Twitter: @ mike_kibaytimes.
From left: Chrissy Pinder, Sam Creel, Kara Clark, Lisa Burkey and Addison Pinder, forefront, participate in the Out of the Darkness community walk held at the Chesapeake Heritage and Visitor Center on Saturday, Sept. 17.
Carol Masden, director of Eastern Shore Crisis Response, speaks to the Out of the Darkness community walkers on Saturday, Sept. 17, before the 3-mile walk on the Cross Island Trail.
Rhonda Knotts with Compass Regional Hospice, right, and Matthew Wilkison give out suicide prevention information during the Out of the Darkness community walk at the Chesapeake Heritage and Visitor Center on Saturday, Sept. 17.