Going beyond a walk
Walking is defined as moving at a regular and fairly slow pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn but for the people involved in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention walk, this simple activity has a greater meaning.
“I walk to honor my brother and so that his death will not have been in vain,” said Chalen Rice, secretary for the AFSP board.
Rice went on to inspire the crowd with her own experience with suicide and the reason she is involved with this program. Rice said she had never given much thought to the issue of suicide until her 20-year-old brother, Devon, took his own life.
The fourth annual Out of the Darkness AFSP Walk for Suicide Prevention began at 9 a.m. Saturday. It consisted of an opening ceremony, a loop around the UH campus and a closing ceremony, which included the reading of names of people lost to suicide that participants had given during their registration.
Rice said her brother felt like he didn’t have any other options, and she wants to prevent anyone from feeling this way. She said that she — and anyone in a similar situation — shouldn’t be embarrassed about losing someone to suicide but focus on prevention.
“I walk so that I don’t have to be ashamed of how my brother died and that I can celebrate his life and who he was,” Rice said. “I walk in an effort to increase awareness of mental health. I walk because suicide is 100 percent preventable. I walk for those who are still grieving and hurting and not yet ready to walk.”
Each year, more than 36,000 people die by suicide, said Bill Berger, the chapter chair, which is enough people to fill the Toyota Center twice. To get awareness out, the AFSP is working on implementing policies.
“There is one (policy) recently that came through in the state of Texas,” Berger said. “That’s really to mandate and require that all the local schools in high school raise awareness about suicide prevention.”
They are still working on getting it to elementary school and middle school as well, but at this point they are just speaking with these age groups, Berger said.
Raising awareness on college campuses has been a main focus for the Houston chapter. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students for many reasons, including depression, drinking and drug use, Berger said.
The AFSP is not just about raising awareness of suicide. It is about making people realize that it is an acceptable conversation to have and that mental issues are normally involved as well. They are raising awareness now so that hopefully one day, fewer names will be read off the memorial list at the end of the ceremony.