The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is an organization that has recently become near to my heart. For the past 10 years, Parkersburg, WV has hosted an Out of the Darkness walk to raise money for suicide prevention. Dr. Heather McCarter of McCarter Chiropractic is one of the many members of the newly born 76th AFSP Chapter started here in West Virginia. Her team has worked tirelessly to aid in introducing bills to congress that help those with mental illness get the help they deserve.

Heather McCarter speaking to the crowd.

Suicide is the10th leading cause of death in the United States and the 11th leading cause in West Virginia. For every death there are 25 suicide attempts in the United States alone. West Virginia is ranked 14th out of 50 states for highest suicide rates. Economically, according to AFSP, “suicide cost West Virginia a total of $307,058,000 of combined lifetime medical and work loss cost in 2010, or an average of $1,100,568 per suicide death.”

Angie Rittenhouse-Williams is photographed placing a golden string of beads on a candle, symbolizing the death of a parent.

While some chose to walk as individuals, others chose to stand together as teams in support of a family member or friend who had committed suicide. Each team or individual was encouraged to raise money in the name of their loved one to go towards suicide prevention. The person with the top fundraiser this year was Scott Davisson, a Ravenswood native, and the top team with $2,230 raised was WestbrookStrong.

There were several tables set up by organizations and centers that provide support for individuals and families affected by mental illness. Some of these tables belonged to the Counseling and Wellness Center, Westbrook Health Services, and resources for dealing with previous losses and current struggles. Anyone in attendance who needed information about counseling, coping, or preventative strategies had the potential to walk away with hope in their hearts.

Scott Davisson being recognized.

The West Virginia chapter of AFSP not only denounces and challenges the stigma behind mental illness, but also provides a support system for the families and friends of lost loved ones. While members of this organization are readily available as a support group, people dealing with thoughts of suicide or know of someone dealing with thoughts of suicide are encouraged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If verbal communication isn’t possible, you can also text TALK to 741741. For information, visit the AFSP website.