One way to encourage people to seek out help for these struggles is to take away the shame by talking openly about it. That’s part of the aim of the walk, which is called the “Out of the Darkness Walk.”
Barclay Heights resident Amy Sullivan walked in honor of her nephew, James, who lost his life to suicide. Sullivan says the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a goal of reducing suicide by 20 percent by 2025.
“How will we achieve that without open chatter?” she asks.
She explains why she talks about her family’s experience so unabashedly.
“I talk about suicide openly so there’s a face to suicide and so people know that I’m a safe person to talk to. It’s important that people know they have options, resources and support. I talk about it so that my children know the truth. I talk about it so people don’t hide their grief. I talk about it to demonstrate there is no need to be ashamed.”
Another Saugerties resident who lost a family member to suicide and joined the walk on Sunday was Diane Missasi, whose son took his life in 2011 while she slept. “Anthony was an intelligent, humorous, sensitive, lovable, talented young man,” she said. “He had more friends than I could count. His compassion was evident by the countless people who told us stories about his unsolicited support in their time of need. His wit and sarcasm apparently served as a mask to shield a pain that he never let anyone see. To say that his suicide was a shock to all of us is an understatement.”
She says Anthony didn’t exhibit signs one might expect. He wasn’t “lying in bed unable to be a participant in life… My son was a fully functional, working, laughing, social being.” She says only now, after educating herself on the issue, does she see that he had been suffering from an anxiety disorder. She says she wishes our society would recognize this as a serious health concern, and that the mental health system in this country would “not make patients wait for treatment or release them after 48 hours only to have them complete suicide in despair.”
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those aged 10-24. Saugerties Superintendent of Schools Seth Turner included mental health struggles under the umbrella of the awareness group he began last month called kNOw More. The district makes suicide prevention workshops part of teacher training on conference days, according to junior high school guidance counselor Kristina Kaisik.
Additionally, she says part of the health curriculum focuses on identifying and articulating emotions and de-stigmatizing mental health issues. She says, “Our health teachers have told me that many students disclose issues to them while they are covering the mental health unit and after.”
Still, she says, teens often keep their struggles to themselves, sometimes because they fear angering or burdening their parents.
“For all populations, there unfortunately are feelings of shame associated with suicidal ideation, so these feelings are not easily shared,” said Kaisik. “However, with teenagers, there is another layer which can contribute to the secrecy. If we think of it from a developmental standpoint, adolescence is a time of transition and disequilibrium, highlighted by individuation, where teens tend to distance themselves somewhat from parents and/or adult figures in their lives in an attempt to forge their own identities.”
The Out of the Darkness Walk in Ulster and Dutchess counties raised just over $59,000, which will be used to advocate for policy changes and to create educational programs. Donations can still be made through the end of the year by going to tinyurl.com/suicide-donation-111.