MARQUETTE - An atmosphere of sadness, mingled with equal parts remembrance and hope for the future, filled the Marquette Commons Saturday morning for the fifth annual Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk.
Walking in teams - bearing the names of those who have been lost to suicide - or as individuals, walkers hoped to raise money for prevention efforts, as well as awareness of the prevalence of suicide in the community.
"When you see the number of people walking today, you see how prevalent it is," said walk participant Mary Herman, who was walking with her daughters Angela Leece and Lisa Herman, along with Lisa Herman's boyfriend Peter Leeman, in honor of her sister, Judy Licata. Licata, who was born in Marquette but was living in Florida, died in January of 2011 as the result of suicide.
Team Judy, honoring the memory of former Marquette resident Judy Licata, comprised of from left, family friend Peter Leeman, Licata’s niece Lisa Herman, Licata’s sister Mary Herman and Licata’s niece Angela Leece, prepares to participate in the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk at the Marquette Commonson Saturday. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
"She was a teacher. She was very active in the arts. She was a huge supporter of sea turtles," Mary Herman said. "She was my best friend and I never knew she was considering this."
Many families and friends of suicide victims and survivors participated in the walk in the hopes that others would not have to know the same pain.
"It brings awareness to the idea that one person's suffering doesn't just affect their mom and dad or close family," Lisa Herman said.
Leece said participating in last year's walk was a sort of safety net for the family as they coped with Licata's death.
"It's a hard thing to talk about," Leece said.
Participating this year is a way to help take action to prevent suicide, with Licata's family wanting to send a message to others who might be considering ending their lives.
"Reach out however you can," Mary Herman said.
"Pick a random stranger. Pick somebody," Leece said.
"There's hope, that's the message," Mary Herman added.
The walk was expected to raise about $5,000 this year, which was to be split between the local Great Lakes Recovery Center and the national American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
"We get more and more people each year who come out to walk," walk coordinator Aly Luff said. "There has been so many people who have died by suicide in this area."
The walk began at the Marquette Commons, traveling down Spring Street and to the city's bike path, where it proceeded to Picnic Rocks before turning around.
Luff said although suicide is a topic most people aren't comfortable discussing, shedding light on the issue, its causes and how help can be found is an important part of stopping it.
"People say that it's a selfish act, but they were hurting inside. People don't understand that when someone hurts themselves, it's a cry for help," she said. "People need to know help is out there.
Warning signs of suicide can include threats to hurt oneself, making plans or preparation for a suicide attempt, intense anxiety, feeling desperate or trapped, reckless behavior, increased alcohol or drug use and withdrawing from friends and family.
Experts warn that signs must be taken seriously as 50 pecent to 75 percent of all persons who commit suicide give some warning signs of their intentions. More than 90 percent of people who kill themselves are suffering from one or more psychiatric disorders, such as depression or drug abuse.
If you know someone who may be contemplating suicide, they should be taken to an emergency room and not left alone. For mental health emergency services in Marquette County, call 1-888-728-4929 or 911. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can also provide assistance at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.