Hundreds walked around Green Lake Saturday to help bring suicide "Out of the Darkness" and promote prevention and awareness.
Sean Jameson keeps a running tally in his head of how long it’s been since his 19-year-old son killed himself. On Saturday, the count stood at two years, two months and six days.
“I look at everyone here, and I know I’m not alone,” the Lynnwood man told several hundred people gathered at Seattle’s Green Lake for the “Out of the Darkness” community walk, sponsored by the Washington Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
Most of those who turned out on a cool, drizzly morning had lost a son, a daughter, a father or a friend. Like Jameson, they’ve been living with a mixture of grief and guilt — and a desire to do whatever possible to prevent the same thing from happening to other families.
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One place to start is by bringing the issue into the open, Jameson said.
“There’s no shame in the fact that I lost my son to suicide,” he said. “It’s not a subject you have to tiptoe around.”
Awareness is increasing, driven partly by an upsurge in the number of soldiers and other troops who have taken their own lives in the past few years, said Jo McNeal, AFSP’s regional director.
During the first seven months of 2012, the Army reported 116 suicides among active-duty soldiers, including several at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. More than 1,800 JBLM soldiers participated in a day of nationwide suicide-prevention efforts last month, McNeal said.
“We’re hoping some doors will start to open, and people will realize that talking about it doesn’t put the idea in anybody’s head,” she said.
Nearly 700 people signed up to participate in Saturday’s walk, raising about $100,000 for suicide-prevention programs, support groups and research on the biological and social factors that contribute to suicide.
Debbie Momb traveled from Vancouver, Wash., to walk in memory of a relative who committed suicide, and to support her niece, who suffers from bipolar disorder and the crushing depression it can bring. Momb’s son, a former soldier who served in Iraq, also has wrestled with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“There’s a lot more support available now, but soldiers are having trouble admitting they need help and asking for it,” Momb said. “They’re taught not to be weak.”
The role of bullying in pushing children and teenagers over the brink also deserves more attention, she said. “The schools really need to wake up to this.”
The AFSP is urging the state Legislature to adopt a bill that would require suicide-prevention training for teachers and other school personnel, said Susan Zarit, a member of the regional chapter’s board of directors. “They’re the gatekeepers, on the front lines,” Zarit said. Twelve other states have adopted similar bills.
In many cases, suicide is closely linked with depression and other forms of mental illness, and prevention requires a better understanding of those conditions, added Zarit, who has bipolar disorder. It’s hard for others to grasp how bleak and hopeless life can seem to a person in the grip of depression, she said.
“In my darkest place, I’m in an abyss. … As I spiral downward, I think of all the horrible things I think I’ve done, and how much better the world would be without me,” she said.
With medication, therapy and the support of her family and friends, Zarit is able to resist the impulse to harm herself.
Jameson often asks himself if he could have saved his son, and he’s still not sure how to answer that question. One of the reasons he’s so active in AFSP is to help educate others to warning signs he might have missed.
“I do think that with enough awareness, suicide can be prevented,” he said. “But I’m done beating myself up over it.”
Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or firstname.lastname@example.org