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ON THE SCENE: Out of Darkness celebrates 10 years

June 1, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

The 10th anniversary of the North Country's Out of Darkness Walk, the annual walk to fight suicide, was celebrated Tuesday, May 22 at the 'dack Shack in Lake Placid.

Inclement weather dampened attendance but not the desire of those present to radically reduce suicide in the North Country. It's a big challenge and need as our region currently has one of the highest suicide rates in the state, and indeed the nation on a per capita basis.

The Northern Forest Region, which stretches from here through Maine, has high suicide rates in part because of high unemployment, and high alcohol and opiate abuse rates. An added factor is those long, dark and dreary winters that begin in mid-October and run through March, especially the first for months which often overcast as a deficiency in sunlight can contribute to depression. When you add accessibility to firearms, coupled with a growing sense of loneliness, the result is a cocktail of environmental factors that can lead to increased vulnerability.

Article Photos

Here are Laura Marx, Capital Area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Shelby Davis, the Essex County Mobile Crisis Prevention coordinator and chairperson of the Out of Darkness Walk.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

I suspect that anyone who has lived in the Adirondacks for any length of time knows someone who has died by suicide. Locals of my age know several. My losses to suicide include a brother-in-law and a cousin's son and expands outward to several close friends or a son, daughter, or brother of a friend, and out even more to people I've known in the community. My experience sadly is not unusual.

The good news is that the suicide rate has been ticking down a bit, which could be, in part, an outcome of efforts led by the Essex County Coalition to Prevent Suicide and their counterparts in other counties. They are working hard to educate people about the cause, warning signs and resources for preventing suicide, and reach those considering suicide to get the help they need.

Depression is a disease, and it's treatable. One in five Americans is living with a mental illness. There is no shame in living with mental illness or asking for help any more than there is a shame of going to see a doctor when one breaks a leg, gets cut or comes down with some disease like cancer or the flu. What's not OK is trying to self-medicate with alcohol or some other drug.

"People get to the point where they have lost hope and can't see any way that their life could be different or better than it is now," said Terri Morse, director of Essex County Mental Health. "It sounds like a cliche to say it's a permanent solution to a short-term problem, but that tends to be the case. It's difficult to say that one or two factors contribute to suicide. Loneliness is far more difficult to experience than aloneness. I think societally we need a change. I think we need to help people, especially young people, deal with disappointment in a healthy way as disappointment is a fact of life."

To that end, Department of Social Services Commissioner Mike Mascarenas, Deputy Commissioner Sue Ann Caron, Public Health Director Linda Beers, and Morse are focusing on the impact that traumatic experiences have at the childhood level and how it plays itself out in adulthood.

Adverse Childhood Experiences studies conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have demonstrated that childhood trauma can impact a person's health decades later. A high ACE score means a person has experienced different types of abuse such as physical, verbal and sexual, and physical and emotional neglect.

Other indicators are a parent who's an alcoholic, a mother who's a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Additional indicators include witnessing a traumatic event and losing a family member or friend who has been an anchor in one's life.

The study demonstrated that there is a direct link between childhood trauma and an adult experiencing depression, suicide, being violent and a victim of violence. Further, the more types of trauma one experiences, the increased the risk of health, social and emotional problems.

That said, the study also demonstrated that many experiences can build resiliency. Examples include developing trusting relationships; forming a positive attitude; getting plenty of exercise; participating in yoga, meditation and other grounding activities; eating healthy foods; expressing one's emotions through journaling and other forms of artistic expression; and just being out in nature.

The Out of Darkness Walk is geared toward building resiliency as it brings together people who have experienced or witnessed trauma and provides them the opportunity to create a strong support network. The walk also demonstrates that those dealing with thoughts of suicide or have lost loved ones to suicide are not alone. It is creating a large and growing community of people available to help, serve as mentors and provide emotional support. Plus, it provides access to professionals who available to help people craft their own best path forward.

"The walk is designed to do two things: create awareness and raise funds for suicide prevention," said Shelby Davis the Essex County Mobile Crisis Prevention coordinator and chair of the Out of Darkness Walk. "The money helps support research to learn what kind of educational programs are needed and most effective. The educational programming, which includes SafeTalks provided at no charge. Plus, they provide outreach programs for those who have experienced a loss."

"A goal of the walk is to let people know of the services that are available to help them," said Laura Marx, Capital Area director for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "Many of those services are free. Education is important, too. Many people have no idea what the warning signs or risk factors are, especially with children. Many think, 'Oh, that could never happen to my child.' As we start to break down those barriers and reduce the stigma, people will begin to learn more about suicide, how it can be prevented and who to ask."

Davis and the walk organizers need more volunteers to help the day of the walk or in promoting the event and encouraging people to attend. Those interested can reach Davis at 518-962-2077 ext. 229.

"I had a good friend who died by suicide after high school," said Steve Eldred, an Out of Darkness volunteer. "His death hit me very hard, and I've known several others who died by suicide since. It's awful. It's terrible. I feel strongly about wanting to prevent suicide. We need to open up and talk about it and encourage others thinking about suicide to seek help."

This year's walk is from 1 to 3 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Olympic Oval, Lake Placid.



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