Removing The Stigma Of Suicide

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December 27, 1999. November 7, 2001. October 18, 2006. These dates may represent a birthday or wedding anniversary for some Iowans, or perhaps mean nothing at all. But to three Iowa families, these dates will never be forgotten. These are the dates a loved one died by suicide.

Stephanie McAdam's journey as a survivor of suicide began the morning of December 27, 1999. Her 22 year old son, Jeremy, an ISU senior majoring in Aerospace Engineering, had taken his own life. "No one knew Jeremy was suffering from depression," said Stephanie. "No one saw anything wrong."

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Margie Gehringer says she had no reason to think her typical small-town family would have to face the shocking reality of suicide. Her son, Tom, was an outgoing, athletic, vibrant 23-year-old. She saw no indication her son would take his life on November 7, 2001. "There are no words to describe the feelings of shock, grief and guilt that followed," said Margie. "The only thing I knew for certain was that I would survive; I had no idea how."

Abby Masters remembers October 18, 2006 as the day her father died by suicide. "I had plans for him to teach me to drive a stick shift, walk me down the aisle at my wedding and dance at the reception," said Abby. "My dreams and plans changed in one instant."

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Iowans 15-40 years of age. Results from the 2005 Iowa Youth Survey revealed that 19 percent of 11th grade girls admitted to attempting suicide, with 5 percent admitting to 3 or more attempts. Since 2001, an average of 329 Iowans have died by suicide each year. "By talking openly about suicide we help reduce the stigma associated with asking for help for depression and other mental illnesses," said Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) Behavioral Health Division Director Kathy Stone. "It's also important that the loved ones who survive a suicide death do not feel alone or shunned."

The Iowa "Out of the Darkness" walks are for anyone who cares about the problem of suicide, but are especially designed for those who have lost friends or family to suicide. These events help fund the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's ongoing efforts with research, education and prevention initiatives. In central Iowa, the Out of the Darkness walk will be held in Ankeny at the DMACC Lake, Building 7, on September 21. Mason City will hold their walk on October 4 at Southbridge Mall. Participants at the Ankeny walk are encouraged to help create a large memory board by bringing a 5x7 picture or memento of a loved one lost to suicide.

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