I Still Matter was grateful to be a part of the annual American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – North Florida Chapter Out of the Darkness Walk held at Treaty Oak Park in Jacksonville on Saturday, November 16th, 2019. With over 2,000 participants in attendance, the atmosphere of community and support was palpable. I attended the event last year and was honored to walk with my friend and I Still Matter’s Director, Rachel Sheldon Potts, and her team “Stay Strong”. This year, joining Rachel again but now with a unified team of peers, we represented not just ourselves in our own fight with mental illness and the struggles and loss of those we know and love, but also representing I Still Matter – along with several friends, volunteers, and supporters.
Before the walk began, there was a Bead Ceremony representing the many effects of suicide. Rachel stood on stage with eight other individuals and their various colored bead necklaces, each symbolizing a particular connection to suicide: blue supporting suicide prevention, green for a personal struggle or attempt, white for the loss of a child, orange for the loss of a sibling, purple for the loss of a relative or friend, teal supporting someone who struggles or has attempted, red for the loss of a spouse or partner, gold for the loss of a parent, and silver for the loss of a first responder or military member.
While I stood there listening to each person’s story and connection to suicide, I looked at my own collection of necklaces: blue, green, purple, and teal. Then I expanded my view to the people surrounding me wearing their own assortment of colors. I saw an adolescent girl who was sniffling while tears fell down her face. The emotion was thick in the cold morning air. My breath caught and my heart ached as my own eyes flooded. I contemplated my own fight with depression, my own history of self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and attempts at a young age – likely very close in age to the teen crying a few feet away. I noticed her friends on either side, arms surrounding her.
After the close of the bead ceremony, I walked up to my friend Rachel, and we hugged. I saw our friends and peers creating a circle, arms around each other, nearly each of us with watery eyes. In that moment, we were unified. Each person connected to the other, sharing in the emotional experience of being affected by mental illness and suicide. We were there for each other. Everyone, 2,000+, we were all there for each other.
The message was clear: You are not alone.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts/ideations, please call or reference the below resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-TALK (8255)
The Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the US.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
BLURT: Increasing Awareness and Understanding of Depression
Where is the Sunshine? – Jacksonville, FL Mental Health Nonprofit