Walk to highlight depression and suicide

Published 9:48 pm Saturday, August 31, 2013

During 36 years as a school counselor, retiring from Nansemond River High School in 2010, David Mitnick learned that signs of suicide risk among teens are rarely obvious.

“The kids that we worked with at school, if they were depressed, they tried to hide it as long as they could,” he said.



“The usual first signs of depression were they had started to cut themselves. Someone would pick up on it at gym class” and let a faculty member know.


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At Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach next Saturday, Mitnick will be one of 18 licensed counselors volunteering at the eighth annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk.

Chesapeake psychotherapist Chris Gilchrist said she started the walk on the suggestion of three sisters who lost their mother to suicide.

The sisters were attending a bereavement group Gilchrist had started years earlier. They said, “’There’s a walk in Chicago. Can we walk?’” Gilchrist said.

“I found out about the walk, and that’s how it started. Three people at a bereavement group saying, ‘You know, a walk is a good way to remember our momma and do something positive out of this.’”

Gilchrist says the event raises awareness of mental health issues and suicide, allows participants to remember loved ones lost to suicide, helps break down the stigma often attached to depression and suicide, and also serves as a day of celebration.

Last year’s event attracted 4,100 registrations, Gilchrist said, making it the largest of more than 290 Out of The Darkness walks across America.

According to Mitnick, who handles mailings for the Hampton Roads walk, pre-registrations are running 10 percent above this stage in 2012.

Gilchrist attributes a good deal of the walk’s success in Hampton Roads to the region’s large military and veteran community, whose members often struggle with mental illness brought on by the exigencies of war, and what she described as the military establishment’s gradual acceptance — lately embracement — of it.

“The first three years, no military would be involved. Last year, 20 naval commanders walked. The Air Force had one squadron (represented, and) this year they will have five.”

The walk now has a counselor attend from every military branch, Gilchrist added. She said it indicates the stigma surrounding suicide is diminishing.

“People are buying into the reality that’s it’s preventable … you are talking about a medical issue. It’s nothing to do with character or morality; it has to do with are you depressed?”

Apart from the walk itself, activities at the event include free group pictures, activity tables, live music, and learning to fold a paper crane, an activity Gilchrist says symbolizes healing and hope.

Mitnick and wife Doris, a mental health professional, also support the event because a cousin of Doris Mitnick’s commited suicide.

It helps with the healing, Mitnick said.

For more information, visit www.sos-walk.org, or call Gilchrist at 583-5111.