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Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

Community members share experience with suicide prevention, awareness

Jumana Alsaadoon
The semicolon is used as a symbol for individuals who have gone through depression or other mental health issues. It represents that despite hardships, instead of ending their story with a period they use a semicolon and continue.

Kevin Long and his daughter Molly walked together.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) holds walks citywide, where individuals can go to support and raise awareness for suicide prevention. These walks happen across college campuses, overnight and in the community. Speakers are invited to present at these events, answering the question why they are walking. Long and his daughter walked together in memory of her friend and to support the cause. Molly was also dealing with mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts. In 2019, Long lost his daughter Molly to suicide. Now, he walks without her. 

He had one mission in becoming involved with suicide prevention and awareness. 

“If I could just help one person not be like my daughter and save a life. That was really my mission in becoming involved,” Long said. 

Long, who is now the chair of the nominating committee at AFSP, uses his experiences to help others. 

“My daughter often needed help late at night and didn’t have anyone to go to except the phone, and sometimes, she needs a person. She really needed a person. Unfortunately, there weren’t counselors available at 11,12, one o’clock in the morning, so in raising funds, hopefully there’s a day that we can have counselors available around the clock that could see people in person,” Long said. 

One year after Molly’s death, Long was asked to write a speech for one of the AFSP walks, answering the question, ‘Why do you walk?’ Long wrote about his daughter. 

“Somebody else reads it for you. You’re standing in front of hundreds of people, and to have to read that in front of hundreds of people is very difficult, so you stand there and somebody else reads for you. That was the hardest part, listening to my own story as opposed to writing the story,” Long said. 

The process of turning the grief into outreach started by realizing that his story could help others. 

“Someone that my wife taught in elementary school died by suicide, and the parents immediately called us that day. We never spent any time with them. We never talked to them. I mean, it was just kind of out of the blue. I’ve never met them, but they wanted us to come over and sit with them,” Long said. “They invited us over and asked us to come upstairs and sit with them. We sat with them for about an hour, just talking about what we went through. They were really appreciative, and that’s kind of how I hoped it would go with turning my grief [into outreach].” 

Dealing with grief may be a long process. For Long, it’s the big reminders that make him feel most emotional. 

“For me, there is her birthday, the day it happened, Father’s Day. You get on Facebook, and it’s ‘National Daughter Day’, and there’s always a song you hear on the radio reminds you. There’s constant reminders,” Long said. 

He tells individuals to look out for tell signs of someone struggling with their mental health, like excessive sleeping or wanting to be alone. 

Junior Mani Stallworth uses writing to express her emotions and self. This poem represents her relationship with her mother. (Photo curtesy of Mani Stallworth) (Jumana Alsaadoon)


“I could stay asleep for like the entire day and I would wake up and feel like I only slept 30 minutes. I have a hard time getting up, getting out of bed to do anything to clean, to go eat, to even go to work,” junior Mani Stallworth said. 

Stallworth got her first diagnosis of depression when she was in seventh grade. The day is engrained in her memory and it all started with checking off on a piece of paper. 

“Everybody knows when you go into the doctor’s office for your checkup, they hand you a paper, and I remember, and I sat there, and I was like, ‘I could answer honestly, or I could keep lying’. I was sick of lying to myself. I wanted to at least find out if there was something that was wrong with me,” Stallworth said. 

The paper had the purpose of assessing her mental state. 

“She called my mom and she said she saw some really concerning answers to the questions there,” Stallworth said. “I felt finally comfortable that no matter what happens, at least someone knows, at least it’s not just me.”

The process of coping with depression was strenuous, but it began with recognition. 

“I grew up hearing, in my communities specifically, that mental health is ignored. It’s just ignored. It’s not real. At least, that’s what they think. I’m not saying it’s everybody in this community, but it’s one of those stigmas from generational trauma,” Stallworth said. 

There was a particular incident that made her feel unable to recognize and process her emotions, later she would learn that this was the wrong way to deal with depression. 

“I remember I was coming to talk to someone in my family about something that was bothering me and I was crying and I talked to them and they’re like, ‘Well, don’t cry because there are people in the world who are going through worse stuff’, and that hurt. At the time, I thought, ‘Well, maybe they’re right. There are people going through this stuff. But because of that, I literally held that ideology for me for the entirety of my life, that there’s no need to cry or feel any emotions, because there are people who are going through worse,” Stallworth said. 

Poetry and writing became new coping skills that helped Stallworth cope with the depression. 

“When I write, I’m able to express everything that I want to say onto paper, almost like I’m speaking and I’m feeling it. Sometimes, I do cry when writing because when I’m journaling I’m just pouring everything that I feel like in this moment,” Stallworth said. 

AFSP has become a haven for individuals who have been affected by suicide. 

“I lost a brother in 2006 to suicide, then in 2016 I lost my dad and eight months later I lost my youngest brother in 2017,” said Markita Madden, a program manager for AFSP. “I tell people, I initially came into the work as a volunteer because of the losses I had and I stay with the work now because of the family that’s still here, because I want to keep them here.”

Madden looked for a support group right away. She hoped her family could approach griefing with the intent to learn more about the issue. 

“We just went on, and everyone dealt with it I think individually, but after the other two losses, I felt like we had to be a little more proactive in how we cared for ourselves and how we’re caring for particularly, the men in my family. I have a teenage son. I want to make sure that we know what to look for, that we really create a culture in my family that we’re comfortable talking about our mental health and that we’re not struggling alone,” Madden said.  

Madden was introduced to the AFSP walks through the support group, where she would later lead those same walks. 

“I met someone that introduced me to the walk, the ‘Out of the Darkness Walks’ in Staunton. My family formed a team that year, and we were one of the top fundraising teams in 2017, so the next year, I was asked to chair the walk, didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but because there was some thought that the walk wouldn’t go forward if no one would take leadership, I did it,” Madden said. 

She led these walks for five years before becoming a staff member of AFSP. She went on to get trained in giving presentations to spread awareness. 

“I present to a variety of communities. We have learned that in some communities in order to even be able to bring the message about prevention and to bring them to a place they are comfortable talking about mental health, there are some things that we have to take in consideration. For example the faith community or the Latinx community, they even sometimes have their own risk factors and set of circumstances that play into crises,” Madden said. 

Through the years that she has been presenting and leading, she found there to be a common misconception about the topic. 

“The biggest misconception people have is that talking about it is going to plant the idea. We have heard that everywhere we go, even in some of the more extended training,” Madden said. 

Madden believes that the question helps more than it causes harm. 

“They are afraid to ask the question because they don’t want to offend someone, my response to that I would rather have someone be offended and be alive and for the most part people are not going to be offended, they are just gonna be glad that you cared enough to ask the question,” Madden said. 

As she continues to spread awareness and educate communities about suicide, Madden has a wish.

Markita Madden, a program manager for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is hosting a table at the African-American festival to talk to community members. (Jumana Alsaadoon)

“I don’t want their names shared in a room where all people feel guilt and shame. I want to be able to honor the good that they brought to the world and the legacy that they left and be able to say that that was her father, these were her brothers, and look at what she’s doing now to help others,” Madden said. 

The Virginia AFSP chapter will be holding 11 more events during the months of November and more in December. Nov. 4 was the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, the same day the chapter held a Galax walk and a Danville South Central Walk. 

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