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Community raises funds, awareness for suicide prevention


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Published 2010-10-18T19:18:00Z”/>

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Gina Pence

More than 350 people stood silently in a circle at Bidwell Park remembering those they lost.

Holding hands with bowed heads, all of the strangers shared a common grief – the loss of a loved one to suicide.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in partnership with Active Minds and Out of the Darkness Community Walks, held a community walk Saturday to raise money and awareness for those struggling with depression and suicide. The walk was the inaugural event for Northern California.

Students from Chico State and community members donated $12,000 to the foundation at the walk. The money is used for education and research into mental health issues.

Ariel Ellis, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, is the president of Active Minds, an on-campus organization that works to draw attention to mental health issues, she said.

The group also offers resources to students struggling with symptoms of mental illness and works to remove the stigma that surrounds suicide and mental illness.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death in college,” Ellis said. “There’s definitely a stigma about suicide and depression. We need to change that by creating awareness, providing resources and letting people know it’s OK to find help.”

The walk serviced Tehama, Shasta and Butte counties, said Charles Rosa, chairman for the Chico branch of Out of the Darkness Community Walks.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sponsors walks all over the nation, which typically take place in the fall, and have raised as much as $10 million for the foundation annually, Rosa said. Donations from the Chico community will be accepted until Dec. 31.

“We want to raise awareness in our public because we can’t always know when someone is going through a depression,” he said.

Congressman Wally Herger, a guest speaker at the walk, restated his devotion to Suzy’s Law in remembrance of Suzy Gonzales, who committed suicide in March 2003 with coaching from online suicide groups.

The bill, also known as H.R. 853, is narrow, specific and makes it a federal crime to use the Internet to encourage people struggling with depression to commit suicide, Herger said in his speech. The law was carefully written to ensure that no freedom of speech laws were limited.

“If congress closes before we get the law through, then we’ll try again next year,” Herger said in his speech.

Chico State has resources for students struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide – the Counseling and Wellness Center offers free counseling to students who need help.

After losing friends and family to suicide and dealing with suicide and depression in the military, Andrea Huelsnitz, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, got involved and volunteered with the Out of the Darkness Community Walks to help educate her community, she said.

“Suicide’s a big thing and it’s very taboo,” Huelsnitz said. “It’s hard to get help because you’re afraid to be shunned from society.”

Gina Pence can be reached at [email protected]

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