Walk to Prevent Suicide and Reduce the Stigma of Mental Illness

DepressionThe recent death of Robin Williams opened up a new conversation about suicide, depression, and mental illness.

That a man who could make so many laugh was dealing with such deep levels of pain was unimaginable to many. Not for Vicky Schroeder.

“It’s not an illness you see, which makes it that much more difficult,” she said.

Schroeder lost her 24-year-old son, Derek Pahl, nine years ago to suicide. He had graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in horticulture, and was teaching special needs students in Arizona before he lost his battle with depression.

“He was smart, he was well liked, he had a vibrant personality,” Schroeder said. “People didn’t see it.”

Schroeder has channeled her grief into helping others going through the same pain. One way she’s doing this is by organizing the Grand Rapids chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) Out of the Darkness Community Walks. The Grand Rapids walk takes place on September 27, at Millennium Park.

Walks are scheduled throughout Michigan in September and October, with the first two kicking off this Saturday in Big Rapids and Iron Mountain. September 7-13 is National Suicide Prevention Week, with world Suicide Prevention Day falling on September 10.

According to the AFSP, suicide claimed 39,518 lives in 2011 in the United States alone, with someone dying by suicide every 13.3 minutes. A suicide attempt is made every minute of every day, resulting in nearly one million attempts annually.

Schroeder said her own experience with suicide showed her how hard it is for others to offer comfort. She said nobody really understands what you’re going through unless they’ve been there themselves.

“Nobody knows what to say or do in a suicide situation,” she said.

The walks are a chance to connect with others who have also survived the loss of a loved one to suicide and start a journey of healing, Schroeder said. Walkers are also able to raise funds to support AFSP’s research and education programs to prevent suicide.

“For me, it’s just a great healing event,” Schroeder said. “It’s been so healing for me to be available to other mothers who have lost children.”

Whether it’s the recent death of Williams or walks to bring survivors together, Schroeder wants people to talk about suicide and the mental illness and depression that sometimes leads to it. Stigma leaves people feeling ashamed, embarrassed and unable to ask for help, she said. Stereotypes that suicide only happens to people who abuse drugs or alcohol are also not helpful when it comes to prevention, Schroeder explained.

“There are people from all walks of life who suffer from depression,” she said.

Talking to someone and getting help are the first steps. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Photo credit: Liz Poage



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