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Published September 21, 2012, 11:30 PM

Walk aims to bring suicide ‘Out of the Darkness’

FARGO – As Jill Bishop flips through family photos, she said her sister’s deeply hidden depression becomes more and more apparent.

By: Erik Burgess, INFORUM

FARGO – As Jill Bishop flips through family photos, she said her sister’s deeply hidden depression becomes more and more apparent.

“Looking back now and even looking at some of the photographs, you know, pain does have a face,” Bishop said.

Still, Bishop, 44, said her older sister Janet wore “such a good mask” that she never expected that one day she would take her own life. Janet Houser killed herself on Dec. 18, 2010, at the age of 49 after battling a worsening depression for five years.

“I felt so guilty because I was with her all that morning,” Bishop said. “The guilt was just so overwhelming. It was something I didn’t think I could ever get over.”

But with the help of the North Dakota chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Bishop said she found the support and resources she needed to begin healing.

The local chapter is holding its seventh annual “Out of the Darkness” community walk Sunday, an event tailored to provide a space for discussion and support for those who have battled depression or are dealing with the loss of a loved one to suicide.

The local chapter’s community walk was started in 2006 by Brenda Weiler, of Fargo, after she lost her older sister to suicide the year prior.

“Through our own healing, we wanted to help other people and become more active with the cause,” she said.

That cause is twofold. First, the event helps raise money for suicide prevention resources around the state. But the walk also facilitates an open conversation about suicide and mental illness, which Bishop said are too often swept under the rug.

“They think they’re not strong people,” Bishop said of those battling depression. “We don’t want to talk about depression or mental illness because it’s a sign of weakness, but it’s completely biological.”

Depression is an illness, said Barb Chromy, a counselor at The Village Family Service Center in Fargo, so she makes sure her clients understand that injuries of the mind are just as serious as injuries of the body.

“If you have a broken leg, you would wear a cast, and that will help you get through a really rough time,” she tells those who are skeptical of depression medication. “So some of these medications will help you get through a really rough time.”

Talking about death is taboo in our society, Chromy said. For Bishop and Weiler, this made it difficult to find the support they needed.

“At the time seven years ago, it wasn’t talked about that openly. I never read about it. I didn’t know there was support groups,” Weiler said. “So you just feel really alone in that grief.”

But events like the community walk help to pull away the stigma surrounding suicide, Chromy said.

“I think the suicide walk is an excellent opportunity for people to stand up and say ‘We’re not going to be silent about this issue,’ ” she said.

Bishop said although it may be hard, especially for those still reeling from a recent loss, attending the walk and talking about suicide is critical in beginning the healing process.

“The first six, seven, eight months, you just lose huge chunks of time,” she said. “You just can’t remember things, but I do remember that it felt good to get out and raise awareness about it.”

If you go

What: Out of the Darkness Community Walk

When: Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m.

Where: Lindenwood Park, Rotary Shelter, Fargo

Info: The event is free, although donations are encouraged. If you haven’t registered online, pre-event registration runs from 1 to 2 p.m. at the event.

For more information: www.outofthedarkness.org or call (701) 205-4710

• Other walks benefitting the North Dakota chapter will be held in Bismarck/Mandan on Oct. 6 and Valley City on Oct. 21.

• The national suicide hotline number is (800) 273-TALK. In North Dakota, call 211.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518