One of O’Brien’s coworkers had a teenage daughter take her own life. The best friend of O’Brien’s husband killed himself, as well. And a young woman who’s been close to O’Brien’s family for years had her father commit suicide when she was 9.
So when she heard a radio advertisement for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s sunset-to-sunrise walk in San Francisco, she didn’t hesitate.
“I’ve watched so many people go through it now, so I know how hard it is,” O’Brien said. “As soon as I heard about it, I signed up that day.”
The Out of Darkness Overnight Walk raises money and awareness for the cause of suicide prevention. Carrying on through the darkest stretch of the day is symbolic of the AFSP’s effort to help those who feel lost, said the foundation’s executive director, Robert Gebbia.
“Stigma about disorders such as depression, bipolar illness and substance abuse keeps people from getting the treatment they need to get better,” he said. “The Overnight is about eliminating that stigma and bringing hope to those who have been affected by suicide.”
Each of the expected 2,000 walkers pledge to donate at least $1,000 to the AFSP. By her count Tuesday, June 5, O’Brien had raised about $1,300.
“I just want more awareness and more resources to be provided, especially teens,” she said. “This was just important to me.”
Suicide and depression affect people of all ages. According to the AFSP, of the 36,909 people in the United States who killed themselves in 2009, 8,598 were between 45 and 54 years old, while 4,371 people between 14 and 25 killed themselves.
Kimball High School counselor Amy Thompson said her Tracy Unified School District colleagues encounter students with suicidal thoughts nearly once a week.
“At the high school level, we deal with (the topic) on a pretty regular basis,” she said.
Thompson, a counselor at Tracy Unified for seven years who has a master’s degree from California State University, Stanislaus, in education, said the school district takes the matter seriously.
Aside from responding to students who show “red flags” such as sudden detachment, a drop-off in school work or other, more subtle factors, Thompson said the school district employs programs to keep students connected.
It’s normal for people to need help, Thompson said, and schools try to keep resource information available and encourage counseling for those who might benefit.
“The key is that it’s an every day reality,” she said of suicide. “We all like to think it’s not going to be our kid or somebody we know, but I think it’s a reality that kids face very day.”
O’Brien hopes the AFSP can put her donation to good use raising awareness and providing help.
“I’m hoping to get more resources out there for people to get help they need when they’re going through these hard times,” she said. “Sometimes kids, adults, whoever — they might not realize there are places to turn to.”
Though the walk is an 18 mile loop that begins and ends at Fort Mason on the northern tip of San Francisco, O’Brien is up to the challenge. Aside from her experience as a runner, O’Brien is motivated by thoughts of loved ones who have lost family members to suicide.
“We have to be strong for them, because I think it’s effected them more than it has us,” she said, “so we kind of felt like we have been the support system to help them get through it.”
O’Brien said those who want to pitch in can still donate via the AFSP website at www.afsp.org.