Suicide Awareness Walk to shed light on 'stigma'
April 11, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (April 11,2012) -- Suicide is preventable.
Tricia Radenz, an Army wife who lost her youngest son to suicide three years ago, said she believes the tragedy, which stems from a mental illness, can be avoided through greater awareness -- both for those suffering and those around them.
That is why she wants to share her story with Fort Benning Families at the Suicide Awareness Walk April 26 on post.
"I know there's been a rise in suicides among Family members, and I think it's important to talk about it," Radenz said. "It's a mental illness that if not treated can ultimately be as lethal as cancer. It doesn't discriminate between age, race, sex, rank. It can happen to anybody. There's so much that's misunderstood. It needs to be more a part of our conversation. That's the only way to get past the stigma."
Radenz suggested talking with a doctor, battle buddy, spouse or friend.
"The more people who are aware, the more resources there are," she said.
For those who attend the walk, there will be several take-home resources. Denise Stephens, suicide prevention program manager for the Army Substance Abuse Program, which is hosting the walk, said the Pastoral Institute, The Bradley Center and Veterans Affairs, among others, will have booths with handouts relating to mental health.
Registration for the walk, which is open to the community, begins at 1:30 p.m. Radenz will speak at 2 p.m., preceding the three-mile walk along Blue/French Field.
"We haven't done a walk like this before," Stephens said. "We are focusing our energies and efforts to the Family members, to include reaching out to the children."
Child, Youth & School Services will be giving away balloons for kids who attend, and the walk was planned to start after school lets out.
"Suicide does not just affect adults," Stephens said. "There is data showing children as young as 4 years old choosing suicide. There are young people -- elementary school, middle school, high school -- who choose to die because of bullying. April is the Month of the Military Child; what better time to focus on our Family members. This is a chance for us to let our Family members know we understand they are hurting and that there are places they can go for help."
Sometimes the difference between life and death for someone suffering can be a small as a random act of kindness, Radenz said.
"Reaching out, that may seem very insignificant, may be a lifesaver," she said. "Even a stranger can make a difference … a hello, a smile … for someone who may seem like they're downtrodden. That one kind thing you do can help that person get through the day and maybe their next day will be better."
Radenz said she hoped her message of hope "will reach to anyone who feels hopeless."
Since her son's death, she's read many studies on people who have survived suicide attempts. Years later, when asked if they are glad to be alive, the overwhelming response is "yes," she said.
"Things will get better," Radenz said. "This is a terrible solution for something in their life that will pass."
As the daughter of an Air Force fighter pilot and, later, the wife of a career Soldier, Radenz understands the challenges military Families face that can lead to unhealthy emotions and thoughts. She's dealt with multiple deployments and PCS moves.
"During my husband's second deployment, our youngest child started showing signs of depression," she said. "He wasn't sleeping. He wasn't eating. He was very withdrawn. We started getting counseling, and things kept getting worse to the point that my husband actually came home early."
Twelve-year-old Daniel worried about his dad when he was in Iraq. After his return, the teen seemed to be happy again, but his elevated mood only gave him the energy to carry out a plan he must have been thinking about before, Radenz said.
"They can't be left alone," she said. "That's an important message. For months, he was never out of my sight and that 10 minutes was all it took."
Stephens said families and friends should watch for indications of hopelessness or helplessness, both signs of depression that can lead to suicide. But individuals should also be prepared, she said, with the right information on where to turn when those feelings come -- to themselves or someone else.
"There is nothing wrong with having information that you don't need right now," she said. "This is something we need to be aware of. We need to be forewarned."
Soldiers and Army civilians who attend the guest speaker portion of the event will receive credit for an hour's worth of suicide prevention training. For more information, call 706-545-5441.