VIRGINIA BEACH — More than 18 million adults in the U.S. will suffer from a “depressive illness” every year with suicide being the second leading cause of death among young Americans ages 10 to 34 years old — it’s the 10th leading cause of death for Americans overall.
Even with the troubling statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chris Gilchrist, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of the Hampton Roads Survivors of Suicide Support Group Inc., is working to prevent suicide at the nonprofit’s annual Morning of Hope walk on Sept. 28 at Mount Trashmore.
“The No. 1 cause of suicide is untreated depression which is a treatable disease,” she said. “It’s a medical matter and therefore, if someone seeks help with treatment, suicide is preventable.”
The way to accomplish that mission, Gilchrist said, is by educating others and countering the stigma.
Reading aloud in open-air the names of those who’ve died by suicide for a crowd of more than 3,000 to hear at the event Gilchrist called “a morning of awareness, of remembrance, and of celebration,” is a way to do both.
In 2018, there were 252 names read over the somber “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban.
“We’re not whispering these names of loved ones who lost their battle, not to pancreatic cancer, not to heart disease — they lost their battle to the disease of depression,” she said.
For surviving loved ones who stand by silently to hear the name nearest and dearest to them, Gilchrist said “it’s bittersweet” because although they’re feeling pain, they also feel a sense of support and know they’re not alone.
“This can be a healthy part of their grieving and healing,” she said.
Gilchrist said the Survivors of Suicide Support Group started more than 30 years ago, but the community outreach event at Mount Trashmore didn’t come to fruition until 2006 when three sisters in the bereavement group thought to walk as a way to remember their mother.
“They wanted to make something positive out of their pain and tragedy,” She said. “And this initiative grew into a morning of awareness, remembrance, and celebration.”
Now, the event attracts people from all seven cities and all military organizations from all five branches across the Hampton Roads region — They’re “coming together for a common cause,” Gilchrist said.
With 14 clinically licensed counselors at a “mental health tent” for support, questions, information, and to assist with on-site depression inventories, the event is about awareness.
Attendees hang pictures on a memory wall and write the names of lost loved ones on a memory list making the Morning of Hope an event of remembrance.
And, after walking through a curtain of 1,000 paper cranes, attendees get to take one with them to signify healing, peace, and hope and then enjoy live music, a picnic, and a cup of Rita’s Italian Ice for a time of celebration.
“Your heart will always be missing that piece,” she said. “The two parts of bereavement are the emotional grieving and the going on with life — it’s finding the balance between the two that can make the difference for everyone.”
For more information or to register for the Morning of Hope walk, click here.