A quiet crowd gathered near the bandstand at Elkin Municipal Park Saturday where memories of loved ones lost to suicide were shared.
“[Suicide is] a cause that really needs to be talked about,” said Claudia Byrd, organizer of the second annual You Can’t Be Replaced Suicide Awareness Walk.
After discovering her brother’s body after he committed suicide, Byrd said she experienced disturbing thoughts. She credits Dallas Johnson, a pastor at LifePoint Community Church and owner of Aspen Mental Health, with saving her life.
Johnson, a certified clinical trauma therapist. was the speaker at Saturday’s event. He discussed a variety of disturbing statistics which highlighted an increase in suicide attempts as well as the need for a category for children, teens, and other age groups.
One of the most significant revelations made by Johnson was the depth of the impact of childhood trauma.
“The average [individual] who experienced at least four (traumas) are twice as likely to be smokers, and seven times more likely to be an alcoholic,” said Johnson, quoting from the Adverse Childhood Experience study.
That study said examples of such trauma include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, exposure to domestic violence, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, and the incarceration of household members
“If you had an ‘A’ score, it also increased the risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent and increased your risk of attempted suicide by 1,200 percent.”
“By reaching these children at an early age, the damage can be reversed,” said Byrd, who, with fellow organizer Patty Hicks, decided proceeds donated during the event would go to helping Johnson further studies to help local youth.
“It’s my great pleasure to announce that over $600 was raised to help in the continued education on childhood trauma,” Byrd said. However, she was more interested in raising spirits than money, expressing her admiration for the speakers.
“It took great courage to stand and share her story of the battle she has faced and continues to face on a daily basis,” Byrd said of one of those speakers, Deja Hincher.
As Hincher discussed her history, she revealed how her mother’s suicide affected her thoughts.
“Growing up, knowing what my mom did, it made me feel depressed,” said Hincher. “It made me want to try to do the same thing.”
Hincher found hope that she intends to share with others.
“Even broken wings can still fly,” said Hincher, “No matter how many times I have been broken or beaten, I’m still standing here. I’m still standing strong.”
Fuentes, a senior at Elkin High School, read a speech prepared for a Rotary contest which discusses the problem of teen suicide.
“Missy Fuentes’ essay was awesome. It reminded me of something I seen the other day,” Byrd said. “When you ask someone how they are, many people reply, ‘I’m tired,’ but in reality they mean torn apart, insecure, really faking this smile, extremely sad, and drowning in my tears. We don’t know what people are going through, so we need to be more understanding to people’s feelings.”
“I felt honored to (read my speech) because it’s a really great event and knowing that my speech can contribute to it made me feel special,” said Fuentes.
“I think (suicide awareness events) could help people my age kind of evaluate what’s going on and why things are happening. I think it will help them be better people than they already are to help someone else feel like they matter.”
“If you look around, you’ll see that people do care,” said Byrd, noting the number of supporters present to help make sure everyone know they matter.
The continuation of that care was encouraged beyond the event.
“Please, I’m begging you, reach out to friends and family, even strangers,” said Hincher.
“Let people know that they matter. That they’re not just the weight of space. That they are important. That they are loved. Just the slightest hello can change somebody’s life instantly.”
“If we can make a difference in one person’s life, it’s worth it all,” said Byrd.