FARGO-With a record number of participants taking part in Sunday's Out of the Darkness Walk, Mary Weiler says the annual event is bringing talk of suicide out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
"I'm just overwhelmed. It speaks to the need for the event because (suicide) needs to be talked about," said Weiler, chairwoman of the North Dakota American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Chapter, which organized Sunday's Out of the Darkness walk.
"Slowly the stigma is breaking down," said Weiler, who held the first walk in 2006, a year after her daughter Jennifer took her life.
Sunday's event in Lindenwood Park raised over $65,000 for the AFSP. More importantly, it brought people together. A record 2,050 people registered to walk, though not all walkers signed in. Last year's event had 1,300 people walking.
Among the new attendees was George Gomez, who took a moment to hang a paper heart with a message dedicated to his late brother-in-law on a makeshift memorial wall. Though his brother-in-law died by suicide several years ago, Gomez found Sunday's gathering stirring.
"It's been a lot more powerful emotionally than I thought it would be," he said.
He attended at the suggestion of his daughter Jess Gomez, who survived her own suicide attempt and has participated in the last three years' walks.
"Thankfully I have a family that got me through it," Jess said, adding that she now is majoring in social work at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
"I hope one day suicide, mental illness and depression will be talked about even more openly," Jess said.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 800,000 people a year die by suicide and it is the second-leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds.
Some of the participants wiped away tears as others hugged and talked with family and friends.
"It's overwhelming to see so many people touched by suicide," said Hailey Jutz.
She and family members wore shirts memorializing her father, who died in 2012 and a great aunt who died earlier this year.
"It's helpful to raise awareness and come together," said the Detroit Lakes-area native as country singer "Blind" Joe Bommersbach played the classic gospel song, "I Saw the Light."
The singer went on to share his own struggle with depression.
"We're all here because we've all been through something traumatic like suicide. If you're feeling depressed, please don't do what I did and turn to alcohol," he said. "There's always someone you can talk to."
Warning signs of suicide
The more signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide:
• Talking about wanting to die.
• Looking for a way to kill oneself.
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose.
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
• Talking about being a burden to others.
• Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
• Acting anxious, agitated or reckless.
• Sleeping too little or too much.
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
• Displaying extreme mood swings.
What to do
If someone you know shows warning signs:
• Don't leave the person alone.
• Remove any guns, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
• Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255). Local call center FirstLink answers calls to this lifeline from North Dakota and Clay County.
• Take the person to an emergency room, seek help from a medical or mental health professional or call 911.
* Source: www.reportingonsuicide.org