A walk of remembrance

Community gathers to raise awareness and funds towards suicide prevention

More stories from Colette St. John

December 13, 2016

September brings with it the changing of seasons, a new academic year and the awareness of suicide as it is the designated national suicide awareness and prevention month.

On Saturday, Sept. 19 the Eau Claire and Chippewa Valley Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk, founded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), was held at Carson Park.

Over 230 people participated in the one-mile walk at Carson Park and raised approximately $15,631.

Sponsored by the Eau Claire YMCA, Marshfield Clinic, REM Wisconsin and HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital, family members, friends and community members formed teams to raise money for the cause.

Event coordinator and Mayo Clinic psychiatric nurse, Karlene Phillips, has a story to tell of her own. Losing her uncle and brother to suicide, she said the topic is close to her heart and a driving force for her in making a difference and creating awareness.

“We are here because we are losing our children, our brothers and sisters, our fathers our mothers, our friends and veterans, people we know, and people we don’t know; all of them being so important to our community as a whole,” Phillips said.

With support from community organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness in the Chippewa Valley, HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital, Mental Health Action Team and the Wellness Shack, the topic was addressed and options were provided.

Phillips stressed the importance of being aware of mental illnesses, stating that 90 percent of those lost to suicide had a diagnosable mental disorder.

“The man I knew would have never left his daughters and his wife, he lived to support and care for them,” Phillips said. “We quietly grieved, people would say they are sorry, but we never really talked about what happened.”

Growth has been witnessed in the amount of awareness and conversations held, people are talking and services are being provided. AFSP now has walks spanning the country in order to educate, decrease the stigma of suicide and reduce the number of those lost to suicide.

Sylvia Jaeger, an event participant, stood among the crowd of those at the walk. After losing a family member to suicide, she wanted to join in to raise awareness alongside her family.

“Events such as these mean everything, it gives the awareness to other people,” Jaeger said. “Just knowing that other people realize that there is a problem, because before people didn’t talk about things like this.”

Jaeger said she believes it will increase the community’s mindfulness of suicide.

“Having a prevention walk is one way to help the community break the silence about suicide, help those grieving a loss to feel connected instead of stigmatized, raise awareness about suicide and its prevention as well as provide essential funds to support research and evidence-based prevention or intervention strategies.”

Dr. Jennifer Muehlenkamp, a professor of Psychology, said she feels similarly to Jaeger about speaking out on the issue.

With suicide being a very preventable form of death, it’s important to be aware of warning signs that may manifest themselves through signs of distress, Muehlenkamp explained.

UW-Eau Claire and the community in general provide many options for students who may be in need of counseling, mental health testing and more. Most of these services are provided by the sponsorships of the event, along with other options found at: suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Director of Counseling Services at Eau Claire, Lynn Wilson, also attended the Out of the Darkness event. She explained available options to students on campus for students or their friends.

“UWEC has amazing resources for students who are in need of help,” Wilson said. “Counseling Services provides a variety of services for students with concerns from homesickness, relationship problems, adjustment to college concerns as well as more significant mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety.”

Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255