Suicide walk spreads hope
September 9, 2019
By TOM LAVENTURE
Ironwood — Three speakers from different backgrounds and circumstances regarding suicide all shared a similar message that depression is not a dead end and that help is there for anyone who reaches out.
“We want to make sure that we are tearing down that shroud, and that it’s not shameful or a sign of weakness if you’re suffering from depression to reach out for help,” said Pat Gallinagh, president of the Gogebic Range Suicide Prevention Council, the event co-sponsor of the sixth annual Break the Silence, Walk through the Pain suicide prevention walk/run on Saturday at Gogebic Community College, together with the Survivors of Suicide Group.
“There always seems to be a new audience of people who do come in,” Gallinagh said. “What this walk really signifies is trying to actually tear down that shroud and break down that wall and break that stigma that is wrapped around what so many people battle with and just having that awareness and bringing it to the forefront.”
Gallinagh handed out suicide prevention cards with information on risk factors, triggers and symptoms of depression and how to intervene for both youth and adults. The cards also listed area resources and contact information, area mental health agencies and prevention lines.
“If they are reaching out for help we want to make sure there is help,” Gallinagh said.
A fraction of the people with depression or other mental illness seek treatment when it is almost always treatable, he said. The purpose of the annual walk is to support the survivors and families who lost a loved one to suicide but also to provide awareness for others that suicide is the most preventable cause of premature death.
The event provided information and resources to help prevent someone else from giving up hope, he said.
Participants viewed the six Lifekeeper Memory Quilts on display. The quilts remember 74 individuals who were lost to suicide with their photos and names sewed into the squares.
Donna Titto, of Ironwood, said she attended the event to honor the memory of her ex-husband, Earl Maki, who died of suicide at the age of 41 in 2013. She brought her son’s girlfriend who also wanted to better understand his pain, she said.
“My son’s father took his life and I do it to try and work through the grief and to honor his memory,” Titto said. “You learn every day. I feel the grief and feel a part of the blame because we were divorced but people have helped me through that to realize that he was probably very depressed.”
The speakers included Paula Bertini, who lost a son to suicide in 2000 to suicide. His twin brother also struggled and lost his own battle.
Crystal Suzik, vice president of the Gogebic Range Suicide Prevention Council, spoke about her family’s experience with attempted suicides. Fortunately, her oldest son survived a self-inflicted gunshot, and her younger brother, who was traumatized from discovering his brother after the shooting, later intended to take his own life but could’t remove safety features on the gun.
The signs that led to both the attempted suicides are clear now but they were not at the time, Suzik said. The older boy was under a lot of pressure from himself and the family in preparing to enter the military, which was compounded by “a lot of smaller bad events building up,” along with lack of sleep and nutrition, she said.
The family had to get past survivor’s guilt and learn to leave the past in the past, she said. Moving forward the work is to educate others with the tools of prevention and to learn to talk and to be an empathetic listener who doesn’t make someone feel worse than they already do.
“Mental disease does not discriminate, Suzick said. “Mental disease can take the best of you and throw it in a closet and lock the door and leave that shell of you outside.”
Each day is about chasing away the lingering clouds of depression that could return if allowed to fester, she said.
“I do it because I love myself now,” Suzick said. “I do it because I love my boys and I do it because I love all of you.”
Denise Haas, of Ramsay, said her story is one of hope, which is not a wish, but is to accept what comes with the expectation of something better to come.
“God’s not done with you,” Haas said. “As long as you’re breathing there is hope.”
Haas said she understands the importance of the medical approach to mental health and in the treatment of depression. She described that as an outside-in approach that goes so far and that her acceptance of Christianity was the inside-out approach and what she called an overnight transformation in her life.
“Jesus is the solution and when he comes into a life he transforms it and heals the soul,” Haas said.
Living with an older man at age 18, Haas said she lived with the agony of suicide daily for five years until she attempting to take her life for three consecutive nights. She survived and awoke from a dream with no desire to be intoxicated or to do self-harm. The darkness in her life seemed to lift like a bright sunrise, she said.
“When I went to sleep I prayed and said God, if you are real I’ll need you to show me,” Haas said. “I woke up to a brand new day and a brand new me and I have never been the same since.”
For the next 33 years Haas said she has walked with Jesus. She became a musician and singer who records Christian music about her experiences and three years ago published a book, “Just Hold On,” which tells of her experience along with five stories of other suicide survivor’s or families who lost someone to suicide.
“I just tell people that there is hope, that there is a way out, and to just hold on,” Haas said. “I’m really proud of the book.”
The Gogebic Range Suicide Prevention Council serves the western Upper Peninsula and northeast Wisconsin. The council offers free education, prevention and trainings on how to “QPR” (question, persuade and refer), the mental health version of CPR.