VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- Sailors from more than 20 Virginia commands participated in the largest suicide prevention walk in the nation during the Seventh Annual Out of Darkness walk in Virginia Beach, Va., Sept. 8.
So far, in calendar year 2012, the Navy had lost 44 Sailors to suicide.
Fleet Master Chief and Prospective Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Michael Stevens, the Navy's senior enlisted advisor, served as the event's guest speaker and addressed a crowd of more than 4,000 people.
"Suicide does not discriminate by gender, rank or age. It is an equal opportunity killer," said Stevens. "But I believe there truly is hope. There was a time when many Sailors believed that admitting to or seeking treatment for a mental illness would negatively impact our careers. Events like the Walk Out of Darkness help tear down that misconception and bring needed awareness to the subject of suicide and the treatment of depression."
The community walks are held throughout the country to raise awareness and to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide, the research, education and advocacy. For the second year in a row, the Hampton Roads event had the largest turnout out of the 250 events held nationally.
Louanne Ellingson, a retired chief petty officer spoke to the crowd about the loss of her husband, a master chief petty officer. She said that admitting there was a problem was not an option for him.
"He would never allow another human being to know that there was something wrong with him," said Ellingson. "He didn't want the stigma attached to him. But there is no mind-over-matter when it comes to depression. If he understood that depression is a treatable illness, I know he would be here today."
According to Chief Logistics Specialist Elizabeth Metheny, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) suicide prevention coordinator, the most important message service members should take away from this event is that suicide is preventable.
"I was at this event last year for the first time. I saw a mother and her young daughter placing a photo on the wall of remembrance. It became abundantly clear to me why we have to do everything in our power to reach out to people and prevent the loss of life and the devastation it leaves in its wake," said Metheny. "In order to do that we need everyone's help. We need to break the stigma associated with mental health and get our Sailors the medical treatment they need and deserve."
U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFF) participated in volunteer positions for the first time this year and assumed about 25 percent of the responsibilities for organizing the event.
"This is the first year that the Navy has had a real, organized presence at this type of event, and I am overwhelmed with the response we had from Navy commands and senior leadership," said Jennifer Dolehite, USFF suicide prevention program manager.
USFF suicide prevention coordinators have assembled in collaboration with Defense Commissaries aboard Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Naval Air Station Oceana, Naval Station Norfolk, and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard Portsmouth to distribute more than 9,000 brochures to help publicize the symptoms for depression and the warning signs of suicide with service members and their families.
"Just the presence in our community Saturday, will raise awareness of the disease of depression to prevent the tragedy of another suicide. We want our Sailors, our shipmates, to know life is worth living," said Dolehite. "We do not want another command to experience a death by suicide. We all can make a difference."
Information on suicide prevention is available from the following agencies: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255); National Community Walks, www.afsp.org.; International Association For Suicide Prevention (IASP); and at the Navy Suicide Prevention Program Webpage: www.suicide.navy.mil.
For more news from U.S. Fleet Forces Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/clf/.