A walk to raise awareness

Every sixteen minutes someone in this country will die from suicide. In that time, sixteen people will have attempted the act, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

The increased cyber-bullying and soaring unemployment rates have turned an alarming number of Americans' thoughts to this tragic option. The recent string of LGBT teen suicides has placed the problem at the forefront of our country's priorities.

The AFSP reports that 90 percent of people who die by suicide suffer from one or more psychiatric disorders and that the number one cause is untreated depression.

This past weekend the organization hosted a community walk at Santa Monica City Hall called the "Out of the Darkness Walk" to create awareness and prevent the illness from furthering.

L.A.'s Chairman of the Board of Directors Veronica Scarpelli says, "We're reaching each community one at a time to help them really understand how someone gets to that point. "

"A lot of people have misconceptions as to people using the words ‘committing suicide.' So we dispel what people actually die from," said Scarpelli. "And it's actually the end result of a mental illness or long depression as opposed to someone got a divorce and they killed themselves."

In response to the recent teen tragedies that have made national headlines, Scarpelli says, "My heart is broken for the families who lost their children but this will open everyone's eyes to what we're talking about and trying to stop. Suicide and mental illnesses are a public national crisis."

After Scarpelli lost her husband to the illness eight years ago, she and her family have participated in the last six walks with "Out of the Darkness." "I really wanted to be able to educate my own family as to what their father died from," she said.

Stephanie Lopez attended the walk with a group of approximately 30 people to honor her cousin's boyfriend who lost his life last year. "I brought my children so that they see that it's serious," said Lopez. "If they need help, there are a million people out here that can help them."

Santa Monica College alumni and UCLA transfer student Sarah Gerson participated in the walk with the Angel City Derby Girls. Rather than walking, the team actually skated through. "Especially with the recent climate of youth, it's a good cause and we're happy to support it," said Gerson.

Organizations such as TeenLine and the Trevor Project are accessible for those in need and also to educate people. The Trevor Project aims to reach the LGBT community specifically.

Thankfully, SMC has had very few suicides in the past. Following the 2007 Virginia Tech incident, SMC formed an active Crisis Prevention team on campus complete with a Psychological Services Center.

Psych Services is headed by Dr. Sandra Rowe and can be reached at (310) 434-4503. More information on violence prevention can be found at www.smc.edu or by calling Campus Police at (310) 434-4300. You can also contact L.A. County's suicide prevention hotline at (310) 391-1253.