Trigger Warning: Today’s story contains descriptions and information about depression and suicidal ideation, which may be triggering to survivors or to the family and/or friends of victims. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please seek help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24-hours a day at 1-800-273-8255 for assistance.
The COVID-19 pandemic has canceled or delayed many community events, but it hasn’t stopped people from helping others or raising awareness about important causes. Organizations around the world have found ways to host virtual or hybrid events that engage participants. One of these groups is the Helpline Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a nonprofit that is currently preparing for its 10th annual Step Forward to Prevent Suicide walk.
“Suicide prevention works, and all of us can participate in it,” said Diana Lee, a retired teacher and entrepreneur who serves on the walk’s advisory committee. She became involved with the Helpline Center after losing her daughter, Pam, to suicide. Pam died in 2014, just two months short of her 50th birthday.
“There’s no warning,” Diana said. “There’s no time to say goodbye. You don’t ever get over it—you learn to live with it.”
After losing her daughter, Diana received information about the Helpline Center, a nonprofit that connects people in South Dakota to services regarding mental health, physical wellness, and financial stability. The organization also offers a mental health crisis hotline, suicide prevention trainings, and support groups for individuals who have attempted suicide or lost a loved one.
“Once you’re at the Helpline Center, you’re with people who’ve experienced the same loss and understand what it is,” Diana said. “It also inspired me to become involved in preventing suicide.”
Step Forward to Prevent Suicide is an annual event that includes a one-mile walk, a remembrance ceremony in which volunteers read the names of those lost to suicide, and an honorary speaker. Individuals can also raise money for suicide prevention and connect with others who have been impacted by suicide.
In 2021, the Helpline Center plans to offer a hybrid event that will give people the chance to attend either in-person or virtually. Following the remembrance ceremony and honorary speaker, participants can either walk downtown as a group or walk through their own neighborhoods with their families.
100% of the proceeds from the walk go directly to local suicide prevention programs. The Helpline Center will also host a second walk in Yankton, SD in August.
The organization hosts these walks in order to raise awareness about suicide prevention and create connections between people who have been impacted by suicide.
“I just want people to understand they are not alone,” said Janet Harvey, the Helpline Center’s event coordinator. “There is an entire family of support available to them.”
At the beginning of the walk, participants who have lost a friend or family member to suicide receive colored bracelets that represent each walker’s relationship to the cause. Purple bracelets indicate that the person wearing the bracelet lost a spouse to suicide, while teal bracelets signify the loss of a sibling. Diana’s yellow bracelet symbolizes that she lost a child.
“People you’ve never met before walk up to you, and they’re wearing the same bracelet as you,” Diana said. “They know that you understand their grief.”
For people who want to get involved in suicide prevention, Diana recommends learning more about the warning signs of suicide and participating in a suicide prevention training. She also encourages people to pay attention to their loved ones and talk to friends and family members about mental health. Prior to losing her daughter, Diana never imagined that someone she knew would die by suicide. She now shares Pam’s story in hopes of helping other families.
“If I can save one life, it’s worth every effort,” Diana said.