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Frank Gray

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Time to end silence on issue of suicide

Just about every weekend during the summer and fall there is a fundraising walk or similar gathering calling attention to a disease, cause or person in need of help.

Volunteers hit up friends and neighbors and co-workers for pledges, and organizers hang banners and post signs promoting the event.

One upcoming march, though, doesn’t seem to have received much promotion, and in a way, one can understand why.

The march is sponsored by an organization called Out of the Darkness. Their planned event, organizers say, is sandwiched between a couple of well-publicized walks, including one for breast cancer awareness. The pink banners for the breast cancer event definitely outshine the efforts of the darkly named organization.

Sherri Drake, who is helping promote the Out of the Darkness walk, holds no grudges against other fundraisers and their success. In fact, she thinks it is wonderful that others have been able to bring so much attention to their causes.

But Drake and those involved in her walk have another hurdle to clear besides being overshadowed by other activities. Out of the Darkness tries to bring attention to the problem of suicide.

Drake can rattle off lots of statistics. The suicide rate bottomed out in 2001 but has been rising ever since. If you are the parent of a teenager, you might worry when they drive a car, but the chances you will lose a child to suicide is greater. Every person who commits suicide leaves behind an average of six immediate survivors – not counting friends, classmates or co-workers.

And those statistics don’t include the number of people who have attempted suicide.

The goal of the Out of the Darkness is to get those people – people who have been touched directly by suicide – to take part in a walk, just to show how many people are affected and how underestimated the problem of suicide is.

Drake will be there. She lost a daughter to suicide in 2007.

Stephanie Bodie will also be there. She lost a brother to suicide.

Drake and Bodie are sort of unusual. They are willing to talk openly about the situation.

In Bodie’s case, she said most members of her family absolutely won’t talk about her brother’s death.

The whole topic, Bodie said, is hushed.

“People don’t know how common it is,” she said.

There are often warning signs, too, but people might not take the signs seriously. After all, when the topic of suicide is hushed, one gets the impression it is rare.

Bodie’s brother, for example, had dropped hints with different people, but they never shared what they’d been told. Bodie’s brother had told a friend a month before his suicide that he was going to kill himself, but the friend didn’t take it seriously.

People need to expose the elephant hidden under the rug, Drake said. What if everyone in the Fort Wayne metropolitan area who had been touched by a suicide in just the last three or four years showed up at the walk?

The turnout might provide a striking illustration of how large the problem is.

“We’re drowning in pink,” the colors of breast cancer awareness, a topic that at one point people didn’t dare bring up, Drake said. “That’s great. But we need our cause out there.”

The Out of Darkness walk will take place Oct. 20 at Foster Park, with signup at 10 a.m. and the walk at 11 a.m. You don’t have to pay anything to walk.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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