LAKE PLACID - Hundreds gathered in Lake Placid recently to help break the silence surrounding one of the nation's leading killers.
More than 700 people from throughout the Adirondacks participated in the "North Country Out of the Darkness Community Walk" in Lake Placid Oct. 4, a fundraiser for the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide.
Saranac Lake resident Deb Jerdo, who organized the event, did so in memory of her son, Joshua, who took his own life in February 2005 at the age of 23.
Since then, she has been heavily involved in AFSP, a national organization that supports local and national efforts to raise awareness of and prevent suicide, as well as support those who lose loved ones.
Two years ago, she and her husband participated in an "Out of the Darkness" walk at SUNY Potsdam. It was then they decided they had to organize a similar event in their area. Initially hoping to draw about 300 people, she was astounded at the turnout.
"This was an amazing number of people for our inaugural event," she said. "We are so happy to see so many people and yet sad to know that this has touched so very many lives."
According to AFSP, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for people between the ages of 18 and 65 and suicide rates in the Adirondacks are among the highest in the state. Still, Jerdo said, there's a certain stigma about it that acts as a barrier for those seeking help.
"When we can't talk about mental illness, depression, and suicide prevention, I think that's why people die," said Jerdo. "Why can't we talk about it like we do cancer or diabetes?"
Getting people talking is exactly what the walk set out to accomplish, and Jerdo said it did just that, allowing people to open up about suicide and the many risk factors associated with it. Additionally, the event raised more than $300,000 in donations for AFSP.
The walk began at the Olympic Speed Skating Oval with an invocation by Rev. Richard Stone and a special performance by the Saranac Lake High School Chorus. Walkers proceeded around the oval and then on a loop through the village around Mirror Lake.
Among the hundreds present, youth were well-represented. Hundreds of students from North Country Community College, Paul Smith's College, Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake, Saranac and Brushton-Moira high schools were among those in attendance.
Also present were Lake Placid mayor Craig Randall, and State Sen. Elizabeth Little, who praised the strong showing by teens.
"To have those people stand with us and publically say that this was a very meaningful thing to do; it really meant a lot," said Jerdo.
The walk was one of 190 similar events being held throughout the country this fall. Jerdo said the money supports initiatives like a film on teen depression released this spring that is already being put to use in Saranac Lake schools.
"The goal is to get it into every school in the whole area," she said.
Tax-deductible donations for AFSP can still be given by visiting outofthedarkness.org or by mailing a check made out to AFSP, 120 Wall St. 22nd Floor, New York, NY 10005 Attn: Community Walks.