Lauren Dodge knows all too well the pain of losing someone to suicide.
“I got involved with [Stand Against Suicide] because of the friends that I lost to suicide growing up,” said Dodge, who lives in Liverpool. “I not only felt the direct heartbreak of losing a friend, but I also saw what their families had to go through after losing their child.”
The worst part was that no one was able to talk about it.
“Experiencing the loss of a friend to suicide when it was a ‘hush-hush subject’ in high school made the loss very difficult to cope with,” Dodge said.
That’s why Dodge became secretary of Stand Against Suicide (SAS), which was founded in 2010 by Tara Dennee in memory of her father, Wayne Olmstead, who died by suicide in 2008. The Elbridge-based organization gained nonprofit status in 2012. It seeks to raise awareness about the risks of mental illness and to encourage those in need to get help. Through a grant from the Pepsi Foundation and local fundraisers, Stand Against Suicide seeks to erase the stigma surrounding the discussion of mental illness and suicide. SAS hosts support group meetings every Tuesday at the Elbridge Community Church for those who have lost a loved one to suicide, for those struggling with depression or other mental illness and their family members and for volunteers looking to help.
“My hope is to make the public feel comfortable to talk about suicide and mental illness,” Dodge said. “Mental illness is like any other illness, and no one should ‘feel bad’ about it. I want the public to see the importance of having an organization like Stand Against Suicide that doesn’t offer medical advice, but instead offers support through those rough days.”
Dodge, a wedding and event planner who has degrees in hospitality management and business, is organizing SAS’s second annual walk at the Inner Harbor, which will take place Saturday, Sept. 28. The walk begins and ends at the Inner Harbor Amphitheatre, with walkers following Onondaga Lake along the Creekwalk. They’ll pause along Hiawatha Boulevard for a “Stand-Off,” where all walkers will stand hand in hand and share a moment of silence to raise awareness for the cause. Prior to the walk, survivors of suicide — both those who have lost loved ones and those who have survived their own attempts — will share their stories in testimonials, and the names of those lost will be read. Registration and sign in are at 9 a.m. Guest speakers will begin at 10 a.m., and there will be a balloon release at around 10:30 a.m. The walk itself begins at 10:30 a.m. and activities will continue until about 1 p.m. Register at sasevents.org/2013walk.
Members of the U.S military will be present to honor the lives of young soldiers lost to suicide and mental illness at this year’s walk, which is particularly important, since more have died by suicide than in combat in the recent wars.
“As more and more soldiers return from war in Afghanistan, the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder cases will dramatically increase in this country,” Dodge said. “We want to be able to offer this walk as an opportunity for soldiers to reach out and talk about their experiences.”
The names of military men and women who have been lost to suicide will join those civilian names read on a Memorial Reading of Names at a ceremony prior to the walk, as well.
“This offers the public the opportunity to have their loved ones name read in celebration of their life,” Dodge said. “This form can be found online and sent into the organization anonymously or participants can add names at the registration tent on Sept. 28.”
In addition, this year’s event will include a bounce house and face painting for children, as well testimonials from survivors of suicide, those dealing with mental illness and suicidal tendencies, as well as families of loved ones lost to suicide and currently dealing with suicidal tendencies and mental illness.
Those who participate in the walk are encouraged to raise money to support SAS’s programming, but they are not required to do so. The main goal of the walk is to raise awareness, not only about SAS, but about suicide and mental illness in general.
“With World Suicide Awareness Day coming up on Sept. 10, it is important that we remember those that we have lost to suicide, like my dad,” Dennee said. “Had there been more awareness in the past, maybe his life and the lives of others could have been saved. Suicide is something many people choose not to acknowledge, but it happens. Every 16 minutes in the US, a person takes their life. There is help, there is hope, and we can help raise awareness and try to end this horrible way to die.”
Indeed, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years in the United States. More than 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease (17 million), cancer (12 million) and HIV/AIDS (1 million). But depression — and other mental illnesses that can lead to suicide — are treatable.
“SAS offers support groups and other services to those in smaller communities that are generally not covered or “left behind” on mental illness and suicide prevention programs,” Dodge said. “That’s why what we do is so important.”
For more information, contact Dodge at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit standagainstsuicide.org.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.