Out of the Darkness Walk to Shed Light on Suicide Awareness
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention event is the first of its kind in the area.
The Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk will take place Jersey Shore this weekend. The awareness event will benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and is scheduled on Saturday, Oct. 8, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Sea Girt National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt, New Jersey.
The AFSP is the leading national non-profit organization for suicide awareness. The organization raises money for suicide education, prevention, research, advocacy for mental health issues, and survivor assistance. Last year, the AFSP raised $4.2 million through three or five mile community walks. This year, they hope to raise $5 million with thousands of walkers participating in over 250 communities across the country.
This area’s Jersey Shore Walk, the first ever, has been organized in memory of Stephanie Fritz, a Tinton Falls resident who died in 2003.
At the time, Stephanie was a sophomore at Red Bank Catholic High School. She was an athlete, scholar, and a musician with innumerable opportunities ahead of her. Known for her contagious laugh, Steph was always one for a joke and could light up a room with her outgoing personality.
As Stephanie’s classmate at RBC, I was lucky enough to get to know her and have at least four classes with her sophomore year – including lunch where she would give me sugar wafers or animal crackers on a regular basis.
I know I speak for so many friends when I say that our time with Stephanie was cut way too short by her suicide. She was just 15 years old.
Learning of Stephanie’s suicide was a crushing experience for our high school community, especially the Class of 2006. It was hard to believe that someone who seemed so happy – someone well-liked by both teachers and her peers – could be driven by depression to end her own life.
Melissa Flynn and Katie O’Meara, both RBC alumni, helped to organize the Jersey Shore Walk. As two of Steph’s closest friends, they continue to organize charitable fundraisers and events in her memory. Their strong friendship continues until this day as they approach the eighth anniversary of Stephanie’s passing.
“Katie and I really wanted to do something special this year to honor Stephanie, and when she came to me with the idea of organizing a suicide walk, I was all for it,” said Melissa.
She said they have been planning this walk since last winter.
“We chose to have it in Sea Girt because of the recent number of suicides in that area. Many people helped our cause and have been a great support along the way, and we are very thankful,” she added.
Among those advocates is Scott Fritz, Stephanie’s father and co-founder of The Society for the Prevention for Teen Suicide, a non-profit organization based in Freehold. Founded in 2005, the organization works with schools, providing resources for suicide awareness and prevention education.
SPTS also published a report called “Manasquan High School: Youth Suicide Contagion Containment: A Case History,” which reviewed the aforementioned cluster of teen deaths in the area. From January 2008 to May 2010, eight young people, ages 16 to 21, died suddenly, and seven of the eight deaths were suicidal circumstances. SPTS provided prevention resources to the high school’s staff as they helped distraught students cope.
The national statistics for suicide are staggering. According to the AFSP, a life is lost every 16 minutes to suicide, while attempts occur every minute of every day. This year, 1 million Americans will make a suicide attempt and more than 34,000 people will die by suicide. It is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24 and the second leading cause of death among college students.
Another statistic–one that cannot be fully measured–is the countless number of friends and family members touched by suicide.
Reflecting on her own experience, Melissa says to remain vigilant and be aware of possible signs of depression. Talk to your friends and ask questions even if you see a small sign of negative emotion. She wishes she could have seen more warning signs from Stephanie.
“It is a great tragedy that scars the soul of everyone [Stephanie has] touched, but it is something we can learn from, and we should use this experience to help others,” said Melissa. “What can be learned from this story is that if you suffer from suicidal thoughts or just need someone to talk to, reach out! There are people who love and care about you and want to help.
“A loving daughter and sister, an even better friend, and an overall unique, amazing individual was lost, much too early and unnecessarily, robbed of a bright, successful future,” she continued. “I know that we will always miss her, but by doing things like educating others about her story and helping spread the message that no one is alone is a way to honor and remember her in a healthy, productive way.”
Melissa’s comments really drive home an important point about suicide. There’s a very fine balance between discussing suicide with young people and running the risk of copycatting. That reality is quite alarming.
But that is why events like the Out of the Darkness walk are so important. We should not live in fear of this topic when it is a continuing problem. This is a way to promote a healthy dialogue that can include young people in the community. Discussion and education can mean prevention.
According to the website for the Jersey Shore walk, online registration closes at noon on Oct. 7, but participants may register in person at the event. Check-in at Sea Girt on Oct. 8 begins at 8 a.m. The address is Camp Drive and Sea Girt Ave, Sea Girt, N.J.
The event will also feature a raffle of great prizes and donations are accepted until Dec. 31st, 2011.