Taking Steps Toward Suicide Prevention
By Jillian Petrus, Reporter
IOWA CITY, Iowa - People who have lost someone to suicide say it's a different kind of grief, one that can sometimes be full of guilt and confusion. In Iowa City Sunday night, more than a hundred people walked to try to make that pain a little easier.
The Johnson County Crisis Center, in coordination with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, held its third annual Out of the Darkness Walk in City Park. The walk allows families to remember a loved one lost to suicide, raise awareness about mental health and fund resources for those dealing with suicidal thoughts.
It's been a decade since Justin Harris, 31, of Iowa City lost his father to suicide.
"Me and my sister were young," Harris explained. "I was 12 when it happened. It's hard to deal with then."
Harris said having counselors, family members and friends helped him better cope with the tragedy. Now he's joining the fight to protect other families from feeling his pain.
"I've had about 25 to thirty people walking with me today," Harris said. "I got a total of 44 donations to me which is about $2,000."
The money raised will go toward suicide prevention, research and resources to help parents, siblings and friends trying to move forward.
Kitch Shatzer of Ainsworth lost her 25-year-old son Jay to suicide seven years ago. At the walk on Sunday, she thanked the group of participants for their commitment to raising awareness about mental health, depression and suicide. Shatzer says it's difficult for many people to understand the type of suffering felt by these families.
"There's a stigma, and there's a lot of guilt associated with suicide for survivors," said Shatzer. She says the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides opportunities for people to feel less threatened when talking about their loss.
"It gives us a chance to let out those emotions," Shatzer said. "Nobody's going to ridicule you or criticize you."
The stigma and guilt is also felt by those struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. Local crisis advocates say this can make it difficult, especially for teenagers, to open up to others.
"Confidentiality and privacy is such a concern for them," Ritter Ruback said. "They often feel like there's no one who feels the way they do."
Parents, schools and crisis advocates are now looking deeper at bullying and the role it plays in self-harm.
"I think that's been a wake up call especially here in Iowa," said Ritter Ruback. The advocate adds that events like Out of the Darkness raise money for new resources like Johnson County crisis chat.
The online instant message chat allows teens to anonymously talk with trained crisis counselors. Ruback says it's giving young people, and anyone struggling with suicide, a chance to step out into the light and get help.
"There are resources, someone will help, they will take them seriously, and they don't have to suffer in pain all by themselves."
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Johnson County Crisis Hotline: (319) 351-0140
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