It’s fall in Tucson, and local nonprofits offer ample opportunity to get your giving on with charity walks, no sweaters necessary.
If you want to advocate for cancer causes, consider the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at Park Place, 5870 E. Broadway; or Making Strides against Breast Cancer Tucson at 7 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, at Armory Park, 221 S. 6th Ave.
Day and night, other health-related walks run the gamut.
You can join the Walk to Defeat ALS at 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, at Reid Park DeMeester Performance Center or aid in the effort to eradicate Type 1 Diabetes with the JDRF Community One Walk at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, at Kino Sports Complex, 2500 E. Ajo Way.
For the 10th consecutive year, volunteers with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Arizona Chapter will make mental health a priority with the Out of the Darkness Tucson Walk at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at Reid Park.
Walk Chair Gina Gillis said the main goal is to save lives and to bring hope and a “healing environment” of support to those impacted by suicide or suicide attempts, whether personally or through a friend or family member.
Gillis emphasized that fulfilling those goals often starts with conversation.
“Conversation is a proven prevention factor for suicide, which is the eighth leading cause of death in Arizona and the second leading cause of death statewide in those ages 15 to 34. One person in Arizona dies by suicide every seven hours. Those numbers are always surprising if you haven’t hear them yet,” said Gillis, who lost her 26-year-old son, Zachary, to suicide in 2015.
Getting past the stigma of discussing suicide openly is key to prevention, Gillis said.
“The ability to reach out and ask someone for help or talk about suicidal thoughts is often seen as a sign of weakness, but it is not. It is a sign of strength. We try to encourage people to start the conversation, even if it is awkward or uncomfortable: It is all about communication and caring for our fellow man. If you see someone who might be struggling, assume that you are the only person who might say something. What if no one else does? Then that conversation could otherwise go by the wayside and no one wants that,” she said.
Gillis said high-profile suicides this year of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bordain have helped to bring the subject out of the shadows and reinforce the fact that no one is immune; suicide knows no social, economic, political or racial boundaries.
“We hope that these deaths will help people to learn more and not see suicide as something that ‘is not going to happen to me.’ Talk about suicide needs to become mainstream so that people can discuss it openly and honestly. ... The more people we can reach organically without having to lose anyone else is a wonderful thing,” Gillis said.
The foundation hopes to start those conversations and educate people about suicide prevention with the intent of reducing the annual suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025. In addition to offering outreach about mood disorders and prevention to professionals and the public, it plans to facilitate that goal through research, advocacy, and resources for survivors of suicide loss and those at risk. Offerings include a survivor outreach program that connects people with another who has survived a loss, which Gillis said she found invaluable.
“When I first lost my son, it was incredibly valuable to be able to talk to another mother who had lost her son and know that four years down the line she was making it. It made me realize that it was possible to learn a new normal,” said Gillis.
The foundation also offers “Talk Saves Lives,” a program for civic groups, schools, church groups and other organizations that teaches warning signs and risk factors for suicide along with preventative measures.
While health, history and environment impact risk factors, various behavioral, mood and verbal warning signs can indicate that someone is in crisis. Gillis said verbal warning signs are sometimes most obvious and can include talk about feeling hopeless or trapped or having no reason to live. Behavioral warning signs can include fatigue, withdrawal and isolating oneself from family and friends, and increased use of substances such as drugs and/or alcohol. Warning signs pertaining to mood can be more difficult to gage since mood varies by individual, but people who are considering suicide often display anxiety, agitation or depression.
“Most people who end up taking their lives exhibit one or more of these signs; in my role as social media ambassador for AFSP, if I see any of these signs I instantly react with, ‘Do you need to talk?” Gillis said.
Gillis encourages everyone to store the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK) in their phones. The lifeline is available 24 hours a day. For those who feel more comfortable texting than talking, a Suicide Crisis Text Line is also available by texting “TALK” to 741741.
Use of the crisis lines is encouraged not only by those who are struggling personally, but by those who have a family member or friend who may be struggling and are unsure of how to handle the situation. She said that many people are not aware that they can call on behalf of someone else.
“They can be an invaluable resource to you if you are trying to find how best to help someone you are with or someone you know. Lots of people want to help and they don’t know how, but the worst thing you can do is not to do anything. Just call them and say, ‘I have a friend who is going through this,’ and they can help you,” Gillis said.
Overall, when dealing with a difficult subject like suicide, Gillis reminds people that prevention is possible.
“The positive thing to keep in mind is that suicide can be prevented. Talk to someone directly if you are concerned about them. Don’t judge, just listen; and if someone says they are thinking about it, take them seriously because they may be in crisis,” she said.