The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages 10-24. In Oklahoma, 90,000 people will think about committing suicide this year alone.
Today marks World Suicide Prevention Day, but some families said a date on your calendar isn’t enough to stop the health crisis in America.
Jennifer Palmer lost her sister Debbie Seritt to suicide in 2014. Palmer said people often view self-harm as selfish, but she said her sister like many others suffered from depression, a form of mental illness.
"She would have peaks and valleys where she would feel great and then she would just crash, and so we had that for about 40 years,” Palmer said.
Palmer said she was a private school teacher at the time, and by surprise, one of her brightest students spoke up shortly after.
“Just [a] beautiful girl, talented, smart, funny, like she had the world at her feet. From the outside looking in it looked like, ‘Wow, she's got it all together,” said Palmer. "She actually admitted that she struggled with thoughts of suicide and that she felt like if she weren't here tomorrow that it really wouldn't matter.”
Palmer said that she was curious how many other kids felt this way, so she had them close their eyes, lay down their heads, and raise their hands if they could relate. Twelve out of her 16 students did.
"Look for drastic shifts in mood, differences, [and] anger where there wasn't anger,” said Nicole Washington, DO and psychiatrist. “Maybe an increase in substance use. Sometimes we see an increase in reckless behavior. If you start to see people prepare like they're giving things away. They're calling to say goodbye."
Dr. Washington believes we need more people like Palmer who made it her life's mission to educate and advocate for suicide awareness. Palmer started distributing "You Matter" shirts to teachers in Broken Arrow as a conversation starter and has since sold hundreds.
"I just tell them, 'Hey, you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and out of seven and a half billion people on Earth, that there's no one like you. That you are unique, and you matter,'" said Palmer.
Palmer is a Co-Chair of this year’s Out of the Darkness Walk on September 26, 2020 at Jenks Riverwalk. Organizations will be providing resources for anyone struggling with addiction or suicidal thoughts. The event raises funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and they have a goal of raising $30,000.
Palmer said this is one of the only in-person walks in the country that is still happening, but they are doing everything they can to keep people safe. It’s a three-mile walk that they’ve spaced out over four hours so that people can come in groups.
Check-in and registration begin at 8 a.m. The walk is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. with speakers and a ceremony at noon.
All 15-20 vendors that are present will be wearing masks and socially distancing. Palmer said there is also a virtual walk option for those who don’t feel comfortable showing up in person. Palmer said she is hoping for anywhere from 600 to 700 people.
For more information about the Out of the Darkness Walk, click here.