CHIPLEY - After the loss of a children to suicide, a local group of mothers is taking steps to end the stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness.
To commemorate national Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month, the inaugural Fearless Walk of Hope will take place 2 p.m. Saturday.
"We've been through the worst fear that any mother can feel," said event organizer Jennifer Anderson Losee, who lost her daughter Maggie to suicide two years ago. "We've been at that level of pain, at that depth of loss - and we are survivors."
The community is encouraged to participate in the walk by gathering at New Life Fellowship Church, located at 695 Fifth Street in Chipley. The route will take walkers from the church to the courthouse and then to the finish line at the Chipley Police Department.
The walk also aims to give hope to those who may be struggling with mental illness, or survivors, the courage to seek help and support.
"Since Maggie died, I know of at least eight other people who have taken their lives within a 50-mile radius, from a neighbor just five houses from me in Bonifay to Geneva, Alabama,Graceville, Vernon, and Panama City Beach," Losee stated in an event news release. "My heart breaks every time I hear of another loss, and I feel it’s on the rise in our area."
According to FDOH, suicides have decreased, however, the age of victims is majority between ages 10 and 34 years old. For the age group, suicide is the second leading cause of death in Florida.
While the state has maintained a per capita rate of suicides over the past 20 years, Washington County has seen outstanding spikes. According to Florida Department of Health, the latest data collected in 2017 shows county suicides at a rate of six-percent higher than that of the state. In 2016, the difference was nearly 13-percent higher.
Organizers Gina Churchwell and Janine Newman each suffered the loss of a child to suicide in 2014 and 2015, respectfully, an event news release stated. Churchwell’s daughter Cassi was a graduate student working on her Master’s Degree. Newman’s son Logan was a popular 2013 Chipley High School graduate who was an active duty soldier with the U.S. Air Force.
The women said they've been stigmatized in various ways, from being partly at fault for their children's deaths to isolated because no one knows how to approach them following the suicides.
"Everyone's afraid to talk about it," Churchwell said, stating moments earlier, but "we're not afraid to talk about it and we don't want other people to be afraid of talking about it because that's the only way to reduce the stigma, to release some of the pain."
Having conversations about their children is therapeutic and keeps the memory of their children alive and in a normal state.
Such as the Facebook post by Logan of him with his mom Janine Newman, he posted soon before taking his life.
"People believe suicide is a very selfish act, and it's not. It's very impulsive," Newman said, noting she still struggles with living free from guilt. "I know he didn't do it to hurt me - he loved me."
"It's up to us to keep the memories alive of our children," she added.
Although the deaths occurred shortly after the ending of intimate relationships, it was nothing in particular that signaled their children would take their own lives.
But as survivors who relive those abrupt tragic moments as a part of remembering the entire lives of their children, the group - with the support of the community - will reflect on what led up to those critical moments during the inaugural Fearless Walk of Hope.
Signs in memory or of encouragement of others are encouraged. For more information, contact Jennifer Losee at 850-768-0520. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.