Gloucester resident Chelsea Jackson will join more than 2,000 other people to participate in a day-long 16- to 18-mile suicide prevention walk on June 1 in Washington, D.C.
Aimed at raising funds and awareness for suicide prevention, the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk is organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Jackson, a recent graduate of Shenandoah University with a degree in music therapy, said that she has a personal interest in suicide prevention because she’s seen her peers struggle with entertaining suicidal thoughts and because suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 24 years, behind accidents and homicide.
"Seeing that need—that struggle—got me interested," she said. "I’ve always loved being there and supporting people in any way. When things scare people, I tend to walk toward them."
Jackson said that 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness at the time of their death. If the issue of suicide is to be seriously addressed and discussed, she said, mental illness should be a major part of that discussion.
A six-month internship Jackson completed at a psychiatric hospital in New Orleans helped her understand the stigma and taboo that exist for people dealing with mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. She said that, although some of these illnesses "get swept under the rug because they’re not encountered every day," many mental illnesses are in fact treatable, and people who experience them have a chance not only to survive, but also to "thrive every day and really have a full life."
Jackson said she wanted an opportunity to raise awareness of the link between mental illness and suicide and to start giving voice to the issue of suicide in local churches and the community in general. The walk provides that opportunity, she said, adding that 85 percent of the funds the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention collects are used for program expenses.
Organizers of the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk hope that bringing this event to the nation’s capital will elevate a national conversation about suicide prevention, said a press release, as well as motivate leaders to take more action regarding this serious public health problem.