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Texas Suicide Awareness Walks Begin Tomorrow

September 16, 2011

SAN ANTONIO - A nationwide suicide-prevention campaign comes to Texas starting Saturday morning with a pledge walk in San Antonio. Funds raised will be used for research and education.

Hundreds of community walks will be held across the nation in the next few months, with eight scheduled in Texas. San Antonio "Out of the Darkness" organizer Meryl Kessel says the most important goal is to remove some of the stigma associated with talking openly about suicide.

"Let's bring this topic out of the Middle Ages."

When Kessel's 23-year-old son committed suicide six years ago, she felt as if she were the only person going through such a loss. She says sharing was an important part of her grieving process.

"It's so good to be in an environment where there are other people who've been through what you've been through - and to cry because of it. And you just want people to know who they were."

The walks also draw people who have considered or attempted suicide, Kessel says, as well as those who simply want to show support. She's convinced that many vulnerable lives would be saved if suicide and mental illness were associated with less shame.

It's estimated that someone attempts suicide every minute in the United States - and someone succeeds every 15 minutes.

Young people between the ages of 13 and 21 are among the high-risk groups, says psychologist Edmond Yomtoob, president of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He says their symptoms look different from the depression of adults.

"We see youth struggling more with irritability and hostility rather than actually melancholy."

Other warning signs include a lack of interest in activities, lack of appetite, prolonged sadness and sleep problems, Yomtoob says. Returning veterans also are at high risk, he says, as are elders and Native Americans. No matter who it is, depression should never be terminal, he says, stressing that suicide is preventable.

"We can save lives. And we can alleviate or prevent the sufferings of people who are going to grieve a death to suicide."

The national Suicide Hotline is 800-273-8255. A list of upcoming community walks is online at OutOfTheDarkness.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX