CHIPLEY - After the loss of 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 second consecutive Fearless Walk of Hope will take place 7:30 p.m. Saturday at New Life Fellowship Church, located at 695 Fifth Street in Chipley. The route will take walkers from the church to the courthouse, culminating at the Chipley Police Department.
"We've been through the worst fear that any mother can feel," event organizer Jennifer Anderson Losee, who lost her daughter Maggie to suicide three years ago, stated during the previous walk. "We've been at that level of pain, at that depth of loss - and we are survivors."
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.
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.
Joining the walk this year is Toni Petrella, who lost 18-year-old son Brandon Petrella in 2012 to suicide.
"I didn't even know such a day existed," said Petrella in the news release. "Unfortunately, I do now, and that day forever changed our lives. Brandon was handsome, funny, and smart. He was so kind; he just had a heart of gold. He stood up for people and told people how it was, even if it was hard for him to say and hard for them to hear."
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.