Walk hopes to raise awareness of suicide

BY
BY MARIA SPROW
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 18, 2003

Hundreds of students and area residents are expected to come together tomorrow morning to help brighten the world of people who may sometimes see it only in dismal blacks and grays.

Organizers of the second annual Into the Light walk, which starts tomorrow at 9 a.m. at Pioneer High School, hope the event will raise not only awareness of depression and suicide, but spirits as well. The event is expected to raise more than $10,000 for programs focusing on depression and suicide education and prevention, as well as support groups for those already affected by the disease.

"Having a walk really brings people out. It supports exercise, which is important for everyone, especially those who suffer from depression," event organizer Tammi Landry said. "And it's fun."

But there are more personal reasons why people choose to participate, Landry added. Some participants will be those battling and seeking treatment for depression. Others know of someone who died from the disease.

This year the event comes at an especially sad time, as University community members mourn the recent apparent suicide of Michigan Radio engineer Stephen Graham.

"We walk because we want to show the world that we have survived something horrible, and if it happens to someone else, we want to show them that they can survive, too," said Landry, co-founder of the Ann Arbor chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Her own motivation comes from her father, Rick, who she describes on the AFSP website as a six-foot-tall state police detective with a "large chest and muscular arms" who "was normally either incredibly happy or devastatingly sad most of his life." Two years ago, he shot himself in the head with a .45 caliber handgun, an event that shocked, angered and saddened Landry and her family.

"We walk to get rid of the stigma attached to suicide," Landry said. "I'm not a freak or a weirdo because my father killed himself. He wasn't either. He was a very ill man who made a bad choice."

In order to highlight and share the variety of reasons, this year's event will feature a message board for participants. Some of the messages are personal statements; others are poems written to a friend or family member.

States one message: "Depression, suicide and anxiety are debilitating and often not talked about enough in order for people to find the courage to overcome these illnesses. Having lived through depression anxiety, I would like to help others in any way I am able - like others have helped me."

Depression Center Executive Director John Greden, who will participate in the event, said that the silence and stigmas surrounding depression and suicide are two of the reasons why public events such as Into the Light are so beneficial to the cause they serve.

"Many (people) in our society are still hesitant to talk about depression," Greden said. "Younger people generally show more openness, but we still have work to do. Tennis elbows routinely get discussed; depression does not."

LSA senior Amanda Barczyk has been struggling to cope with the realities of depression since her high school years, when her uncle and several peers committed suicide.

She said she continued the struggle during college, when a family friend, as well as some University students she had become acquainted with, succumbed to depression and killed themselves.

"With the enormous transition of coming to college, many students get lost in the shuffle. Plus, with the added stress of balancing course work, a social life, and extracurricular activities, it is hard for many students not to slip into depression," said Barczyk, who recently co-founded the student-run group Teaching, Informing and Preventing Suicide.

"The more research that is conducted, the more programs that are started and the more informed our community becomes about depression and suicide, the more likely everyone will be able to prevent it," she added. "Everyone should be a part of this walk, because at some point in everyone's life - if it hasn't happened already - they will know someone who is battling depression."

Into the Light

Who: The event is co-sponsored by the Michigan Depression Center and the Ann Arbor chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Anyone can participate.

What: Three or seven-mile-long walk, depending on which route you choose.

When: Tomorrow morning. Registration is at 8 a.m., the walk starts at 9.

Where: Pioneer High School.

Cost: $10 for students, $25 for everyone else.