Out of Darkness: No More Secrets

Out of Darkness: No More Secrets

Bob and Pam Valentine, of Potomac, Md., and their son David, 16, walked in memory of David’s older brother, Michael, 21, who died of suicide just two months earlier, on June 18, 2002.

Nicole Brown, of Springfield, walked in memory of her sister Leslie Anne Ferris, 44. Joining her were 10 other members of her family, including Ferris' daughter Rachael, 15, who lost her mother to suicide on Feb. 1, 2001.

Vicki Saitta, of Chantilly, walked in memory of her brother, Brian, who died of suicide in May of 1990.

Carolyn Calhoun, of Vienna, walked in memory of her sister Becky Hillman, who died of suicide in 1995, leaving behind her 4-year-old and three-month-old children.

Kelli Martin, of Vienna, walked with her daughters Ashleigh, 15, and Allison, 14. Ashleigh's friend died of suicide on the last day of eighth grade at Thoreau Middle School in June 2001.

Terry Moraska, of Fairfax, walked in memory of her fiancé David who died earlier this year.

Erin Voss, of Herndon, walked for her own struggle against depression as well as to support those who have lost loved ones to suicide. Voss has survived her own suicide attempts.

Nicole Pommerenke, of Arlington, and Anita Smallin, who works with youth in Great Falls, walked 26 miles along with 2,259 others through the night of Aug. 17 into the morning of Aug. 18 to bring the grief surrounding suicide out of the darkness and into the light.

THESE LOCAL residents walked the first-ever "Out-of-the-Darkness" walk to break the silence that often prevents open dialogue regarding depression and suicide.

"While a leading cause of death, suicide often is not in the public eye. Awareness in and of itself is a reason to do the walk," said Robert Gebbia, executive director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "People need to recognize that depression is an illness and, if not treated, can lead to fatal complications."

The walk also honored those, like Voss, who fight their own depression every day.

“Believe me, as much as anyone with AIDS or breast cancer or anything else, these people are fighting for their lives and they deserve the same heroic treatment," said Dan Pallotta, an organizer of the Out of the Darkness walk.

MORE THAN 2,000 strong, the walk began at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale on Aug. 16, winding through communities including Vienna and Falls Church, to emerge on the Mall by the Washington Monument at dawn.

Participants walked to educate people about the warning signs of depression, its treatment and the risk of suicide. They walked in unison with the goal of trying to prevent other families from having to endure the pain of grieving a loved one from suicide.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among those 15-24 years old, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. More than 29,000 people in the United States die of suicide every year.

In any given year, depression affects nearly 10 percent of people in the United States who are 18 or older.

Nearly all people who die of suicide suffer with depression or other diagnosed psychiatric illnesses, and identifying and treating that depression is the most effective way to prevent suicide.

"We're only going to be able to prevent this if more people are willing to talk about it. Nobody is strong enough to keep it to themselves," said Vicki Saitta, of Chantilly.

Saitta's brother died of suicide in November of 1989, six months after threatening suicide.

"As a family, we tried not to talk about it because we didn't know much about it at that time and we thought if we didn't talk about it, we weren't going to give him any ideas. … That's something both my parents and I have to live with the rest of our lives," said Saitta.

PROCEEDS from the walk will be used to create educational programs and materials for high school students and college students to educate them about depression, how depression can be treated and how students can help friends in need. Proceeds will also be used to establish a local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and to establish a database that survivors who have lost loved ones to suicide can access to know where to turn for help, including support groups, organizations and other survivors.

"The people who understand this are the people who have been through it. We can look at each other's eyes, look at each other's hearts and say, 'How are you doing? How are you really doing?' And the answer will have meaning because the person will know what you are going through," said Nicole Brown, sister of Leslie Ferris. "The more we can write about it and talk about it, that is a big part of understanding and then, change. I would hope that people will seek the resources that are there."

The journey through the night and into the morning light made by Brown and 2,259 was also symbolic, letting each other know they do not face grief by themselves.

"There are millions of survivors who are silently suffering. They need to know they are not alone," said Gebbia.