‘There’s Always Hope’

Derek Adams, 20, of Hollywood, a criminal justice student at the College of Southern Maryland, (wearing a red shirt) leads the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk through Leonardtown on May 5.

Scores of people who have lost someone in their lives to suicide — a high school classmate, a fiancé, a son, a friend, a parent — as well as those who may have considered attempting suicide themselves and others wanting to lend their support to raise awareness came out to the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) Leonardtown Campus on May 5 for an Out of the Darkness Campus Walk.  More than 85 walkers participated and raised more than $3,300 in the local walk, the first held at CSM as part of the annual walks that support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) local and national education and advocacy programs.

Laura McKinney of Clements had organized the largest team of walkers, the Montpelier Farm Team, bringing approximately 30 family members and friends with her to support the cause. McKinney lost her fiancé to suicide just one year ago. “So, as a family, we just try to stay as close as possible, and we walk to show support for anyone who is troubled who thinks this is their only option,” she said. “There’s always hope.”

Maryland AFSP Board Member Susan Maskaleris of Waldorf lost her father to suicide when she was 14. “We need to start talking about suicide,” Maskaleris said. “Don’t be afraid of the word. People are suffering out there and they need help … If you can use the word, you are a safe person to talk to.”

Paige Baugher, 18, of Lexington Park is dual enrolled at Great Mills High School and CSM. She raised $220 as of May 5 for the walk, making her one of the largest contributors to the event. She said she put in the effort to raise funds and participate in the walk because her class at GMHS lost a fellow student to suicide when he was 17. “It had a big impact on us,” Baugher said. “I raised the money for him and anyone else who is struggling.”

Suicide is a critical health issue. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the 12th leading cause in Maryland. In Maryland, suicide is the third leading cause of death for ages 15-34. It is the first leading cause of death for ages 10-14.

The causes of suicide are complex. However, it most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition, according to the AFSP.

Members of the Montpelier Farm Team gather for a photo before the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk at the College of Southern Maryland Leonardtown Campus on May 5. The team was organized by Laura McKinney of Clements who lost her fiancé to suicide just one year ago.

Out of the Darkness Walks, like the one sponsored by CSM, raise funds for education, advocacy, research and community programs. “There’s hope and there’s healing,” said Maryland AFSP Board Member Greg Reuss as he walked the route in Leonardtown. A close coworker died by suicide in 2005, turning Reuss into a suicide prevention advocate who now leads AFSP’s firearm safety and suicide prevention program across the state. Then, just three years ago, Reuss’ adult son also took his life, compounding Reuss’ commitment to the cause.

“Mental health is treatable, and suicide is preventable. That’s my mantra,” Reuss said, adding that preventing suicide is “absolutely a team sport,” where family, friends, mental health professionals and the community can all play a part.

Recent CSM graduate Michael Miranda of Owings, who worked at the walk’s registration table, spoke of his own thoughts of suicide several years ago. “It’s very personal to me,” Miranda said of the walk’s purpose. “I really want to eliminate the stigma.”

The CSM walk was co-chaired by CSM Mental Health Counselor Jennifer Fossell and CSM student Derek Adams. They were assisted by Walk Committee members Director of Student Affairs Kevin Hunter, Associate Professor Barbara Link, Student Life Coordinator Jennifer Van Cory, Enrollment Advisor Latasha Baker, Student Success Coordinator Laura Robins and Academic Advisor Martha Maratta.

Fossell said that Adams was a driving force behind the college hosting the walk, which was co-sponsored by the college and CSM CARES, a college club that supports mental health programs at CSM. Adams, a 20-year-old criminal justice student from Hollywood, said that the topic needs to be addressed. “I feel this is an important issue that we as a community need to tackle and solve,” Adams said. “I just want to do my part and help out with the community. This issue impacts us as a campus and off campus and all age ranges, I feel. … Some more awareness and some more community outreach like this…. I am excited to finally see it occur.”

A local grief counselor, Melinda Ruppert, LCPC, was at the walk to talk to anyone who “needs a listening ear,” she said. Ruppert’s No. 1 message to anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts is “to let someone know that you’re feeling that way.”

“Please ask for help,” echoed AFSP Maryland Area Director Kat Olbrich. “Ninety percent of all suicide is related to mental health, which is treatable.” Out of the Darkness Walks are held in the spring, hosted by high schools, colleges or universities. CSM’s walk was one of five within Maryland this spring. In the fall, there are community Out of the Darkness Walks. For instance, a Southern Maryland Walk is planned at Historic St. Mary’s City on Sept. 15. To register, visit http://afsp.org/southernmd.

A variety of resources are available to assist people dealing with suicidal thoughts or concerns about other’s well-being. The AFSP recommends that people at-risk visit a primary care provider or a mental health provider to discuss their concerns.

For help in finding a mental health provider, visit http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov or http://mentalhealthamerica.net/finding-help. There is also a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255); veterans, press 1.

One can also text TALK to 741741 to talk with a trained counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free. Visit https://www.contact-usa.org/chat.html or http://afsp.org. Reuss also recommended http://Seizetheawkward.orgto learn how to reach out to someone who you think needs help.

For information on counseling services available to CSM students, visit https://www.csmd.edu/student-services/student-affairs/personal-counseling/. Donations related to the CSM walk can be accepted through June 30 at http://afsp.org/CSMDLeonardtown.