Out of the darkness

Published 10:00 pm Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cranes: Out of the Darkness Walk participants at least year’s suicide-prevention event parade through a curtain of origami cranes. In Asian tradition, folding cranes is thought to bring peace.

School social workers rally against suicide

After 10 years serving Suffolk Public Schools as a social worker, Monica Williams knows all too well how damaging suicide can be for both families and the community.

“We’ve lost a lot of students and teachers to suicide, so it’s definitely something that has an impact,” she said.

Through her work, Williams tries to promote good mental health and prevent suicides in both students and staff. As part of that effort, she and six other Suffolk school social workers are leading a team in the Out of the Darkness Walk to prevent suicide Saturday at Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach.

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The walk is free and open to the public, and check-in begins at 8:30 a.m.

The school social workers’ group is called Team S.O.S., short for Save Our Stars, as a reference to the school division’s motto that “every child is a star.” Williams said anyone is welcome to join the team.

Williams and her co-workers, Fonda Lyles and Mary Bess, are spearheading the team’s efforts to get more people involved in the walk and raise $500 to donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Williams said she thinks the walk will help remove the shame associated with suicide and depression.

“Being a part of the walk helps you to see it goes across all walks of life,” she said.

This is the sixth year the walk has taken place. Last year, the Hampton Roads walk led the nation in number of participants.

Like Williams, Dr. Chris Gilchrist, a psychotherapist who has been instrumental in organizing the local event since its inception, said she wants Out of the Darkness to demonstrate that depression and suicide are not the result of a weak character.

“It’s not a character issue,” she said. “The No. 1 cause of suicide has nothing to do with strength of character. The No. 1 cause of suicide is having a mental disease.”

She said everyone has been touched by depression in their lives, whether they dealt with it themselves or have known someone who struggled with it.

To demonstrate how everyone is affected, walkers wear a different color ribbon to show how they have been touched.

Gilchrist said silver ribbons are worn by people who want to support suicide prevention, while the colored ribbons are wore by people who have had a loved one commit suicide.

“You will see hundreds of colored ribbons,” she said. “Those wearing silver ribbons, their hearts go out to people wearing colored ribbons, and people wearing colored ribbons — their hearts are touched by the support.”

At the event, information about suicide and depression, such as the warning signs of depression, will be distributed to inform the participants.

Also, individuals who have been affected by suicide will share their stories, and a memorial wall commemorates the people who ultimately lost their battle with depression.

Lyles sad she thinks everyone can benefit from attending the walk, especially people who currently are fighting their own depression.

“When you have things like this, it lets them know they aren’t alone,” she said.

Williams believes family members can identify problems in their loved ones if they learn the warning signs and hear the stories and symptoms of people who have committed suicide.

“It shows them that their children might be having the same problems,” she said.

Gilchrist said her goals for the walk are to raise money for suicide prevention, create awareness and honor the people who have taken their own lives.

“This is not just a suicide walk,” she said. “It’s so much more; it’s a celebration of life; it’s a walk to promote good mental health.”

For more information on the Out of the Darkness walk and suicide prevention, visit www.sos-walk.org.