BY JOSH WHITENER
MOUNT TRASHMORE — Thousands of supporters and advocates organized Saturday, Sept. 12, at Mount Trashmore for the 10th annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk, which promoted awareness about the fight against depression and suicide.
About 7,000 people from all around Hampton Roads adorned clothing with specific messages relating to victims of suicide they knew.
At the largest walk of its kind in the U.S., advocates walked the trail that surrounds Lake Trashmore. Some shouted chants of awareness. Others held signs for loved ones. For many, depression and suicide risk hit close to home.
“We had two tragedies in our family,” said Jessie Taylor of Virginia Beach. “My kids lost their dad to suicide and we lost our cousin to suicide, so it’s near and dear to us. We want to make sure there’s awareness out there that everybody could get help whenever they needed, and we’re out here to help you if you need it.”
At one of the park’s shelters, a large group of family and friends of Tiffany A. Whitley Lewis, who died by suicide in June, wore red shirts reading “Team Tiffany.” They spoke of their faith and coming together to shine a light on problems that can be difficult to discuss.
Patria Waters, Lewis’ sister, spoke about Tiffany’s struggle with depression.
“It was hidden,” Waters said. “It’s not talked about in the black community.”
Organizers put together a memorial wall, which displayed photographs showing people who took their own lives. Many were smiling in the photographs.
Some were young. Some were old. Their survivors wrote letters of remembrance and put them near the photographs with clothespins.
“The walk gives a strong example of our civilians and military coming together for a common cause,” said Chris Gilchrist, a psychotherapist who founded the Hampton Roads Survivors of Suicide support group 27 years ago. “It’s for anyone who’s been touched by depression and suicide.”
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death, and 90 percent of those who take their own life suffer from untreated depression, Gilchrist said. She said the walk was about promoting the importance of good mental health and replacing the stigmas associated with the action of suicide.
“We don’t say we ‘committed cancer’ and we don’t say ‘committed suicide,’” she said. “It’s died by suicide. We can replace that stigma with hope.”