Pre-dawn, over 100 people gathered at Edgartown’s Bend in the Road on Saturday for the fifth annual Darkness into the Vineyard Light Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk.
Co-founded by John Murray and Maria Ventura in 2008, and brought to fruition by Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Island Intervention Center, the symbolic walk aims to draw attention to the millions of people struggling with their mental health, and to reduce the stigma of mental illness.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2020, 45,979 people died by suicide – one every 11 minutes. This doesn’t include the 12.2 million adults who seriously thought about ending their life, 3.2 million adults who made plans to do it, and 1.2 million people who made an attempt.
For every death by suicide, according to the CDC, there are four hospitalizations for failed attempts, eight suicide-related emergency department visits, 27 self-reported attempts, and 275 people who seriously consider it.
Funds raised went to the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness Martha’s Vineyard (NAMI MV), designed to help individuals who are struggling with mental health, as well as concerned families and friends.
Preceding Saturday’s walk, attendees — layered with coats and wrapped in blankets — huddled around a dimly lit outdoor heater as wind gusts blew through the dark.
The group stood quietly as they heard from a few speakers who relayed a portion of their personal experiences with mental illness.
Author Crispin Haskins detailed some of his best life experiences, including having written five mystery novels, working on parts for a space shuttle, making movies with A-list celebrities, and managing a 300-room hotel. “These were really excited moments for me,” he said, “but none of them — not one — would have happened if my suicide attempt had been successful.”
“I was convinced that no one actually wanted me around,” he said, and thought that “everyone in my life would be better off without me.”
Haskins was lucky to live. “There are no receipts,” he continued; “no matter how wrong the decision was, I wouldn’t have been able to take it back. Suicide is a final sale.”
“It’s so important that everyone understands that we all matter,” Haskins said. “We matter to the people in our lives, and we matter to the people we haven’t even met yet.”
Haskins looked at the gathered crowd, and noted that he wouldn’t have met so many of the people that he loves today if he had died the day of his suicide attempt. “The real reason we need to stick around,” he said, “is to love and be loved.”
Having struggled with mental illness stemming from traumatic events, Chrissie McCarthy said in the past she had been prescribed medication that instead of alleviating her sense of hopelessness, exacerbated existing depression and eventually triggered an attempt to take her own life.
Sometimes, she said, it was “easier to think about ending your life than asking for help.”
But, McCarthy said, “As you can see, I’m here today,” and standing among people who “have also, like me, [once] lost hope, but are now healing and working through the traumas and situations that made them believe they were not worthy of life.”
Suicide awareness and prevention are more important than ever, said McCarthy, especially as people begin navigate the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everyone here today has gathered for the same purpose,” McCarthy said, noting that each and every person that showed up has been impacted by depression or suicide in some way: “You are not alone.”
Walkers began making their way down Beach Road as the dark sky slowly became illuminated, symbolizing the despair of depression metamorphosing into hope and healing.
As dawn broke, the scattered group made its way to Big Bridge, passing a sign crafted from tea lights reading “Listen.” The sun lit up the Bend upon return to the meeting spot, where the group was provided with breakfast and refreshments.
David Araujo, mental health specialist, and former director of the emergency services and enhanced urgent care program at M.V. Community Services and Island Intervention Center, advised the ways in which family and friends can recognize warning signs, and highlighted key indicators that someone they love may be suicidal:
- Vocalizing suicidal ideations, self-harm, seeking access to firearms
- Extreme feelings, including hopelessness, speaking often about death, feeling trapped, lacking purpose in life, feeling like a burden to others
- Uncharacteristic change in mood or behavior, rage, uncontrolled anger, engaging in high-risk activities, acting recklessly, increase in alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and society, feelings of anxiety and agitation, inability to sleep, or excessive sleeping
- Putting affairs in order, such as calling friends or family to say goodbye, changing a will
What you can do if a family member or friend is exhibiting aforementioned warning signs:
- Take the person seriously.
- Call 911.
- Reach out to to a suicide crisis line.
- Encourage them to seek mental health services.
- Don’t give up on them, check in regularly, and express to them that you love them and want them to be safe.
Araujo emphasized the importance of seeking out mental health professionals for those who are dealing with feelings of depression or have thoughts of suicide, in addition for those who have been, or are, impacted by friends or family members who struggle with mental illness.
Bay Cove 24-hour mental health services, for individuals struggling with suicide or mental health issues: 833-229-2683
Samaritans of Cape Cod, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, three-digit hotline: 988
Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255
Youth Crisis Support Free Text: text 741 741
NAMI of Cape Cod: 508-778-4277
The Trevor Hotline for LGBTQ Youth and Young Adults: 866-488-7386
The Cape and Island Suicide Prevention Coalition: firstname.lastname@example.org