April 17, 2013

Suicide awareness emphasized


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Suicide survivors joined with caring participants for the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk, held last weekend at SUNY Plattsburgh.

The event raised awareness and brought in money for research and educational programs. As of Tuesday, donations totaled $2,940; the goal, with a cutoff date of July 1, is $7,000.

Among the speakers was Mary Gillen, who lost her son, Justin “J.C.” Christian, to suicide in 2006. She said that no one would have known by looking at her young, athletic son that he was at risk.

“That’s why I do this,” she said of participating in the walk, “so people do know it can happen.”

The event, which started at the SUNY Plattsburgh Field House, brought back many memories for Gillen. She remembered how her son played basketball there, how he graduated from high school there and how, years before that, she had taught him to ride his bike in the parking lot.

Now, Gillen is committed to events like the Out of Darkness walk.

“I need to spread the word,” she said.


The event, part of a national program through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, was organized locally by Walk Committee Chair Maggie Edwards, a SUNY Plattsburgh student and member of the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority.

Edwards, who lost a brother and a friend to suicide, wants people to be educated about the warning signs that someone may be considering ending their own lives.

Then, she said, they should be willing to ask directly if the person is thinking of suicide. If so, “stay with that person and make sure they’re safe, and get them to the resources on or off campus.”

As of Tuesday, according to the American Foundation’s website, Edwards had raised $875, topping her personal goal of $400.


According to the foundation, the most common risk factors include:

Suicide risk tends to be highest when someone has several risk factors at the same time.

The most frequently cited risk factors for suicide are:

▶ Mental disorders, in particular: depression or bipolar disorder; alcohol or substance abuse or dependence; schizophrenia; borderline or antisocial personality disorder; and conduct disorder (in youth).

▶ Psychotic disorders, with psychotic symptoms in the context of any disorder.

▶ Anxiety disorders.

▶ Impulsivity and aggression, especially in the context of the above mental disorders.

▶ A previous suicide attempt.

▶ Family history of attempted or completed suicide.

▶ A serious medical condition and/or pain.

“It is important to bear in mind that the large majority of people with mental disorders or other suicide risk factors do not engage in suicidal behavior,” the site says.


Aaron Benner of Plattsburgh, a co-worker of Gillen’s, was among those who attended the walk.

“I’m amazed by the bravery of these folks,” he said of Gillen and her family. “I have a lot of respect for them, and I want to come out here and raise awareness.

“Suicide has always been a taboo subject, and events like this help people become more aware of what’s going on. It comes back to communication.”

At the walk, boards carrying photographs, messages and flowers memorialized loved ones whose lives ended by suicide.

“If we educate ourselves and talk about it, we can prevent it,” Gillen said.

“At least that’s my wish, my hope, my prayer.”

To contribute to the campus walk’s goal, go to and click on “Donate to this event.” Or reach Edwards at (716) 534-0413 or maggie,



If you're considering suicide, instead get help by calling the following numbers:

For counseling: Clinton County Mental Health, 565-4060. Behavioral Health Services North Adult Clinic, 563-8000 (staffed around the clock). Essex County Mental Health Clinic, 873-3670; after-hour emergencies, (888) 854-3773. In northern Franklin County, around the clock, 483-3261; southern Franklin County, 891-5535.

For emotional crises: The toll-free Clinton County suicide hot line number is (866) 577-3836. Out-of-county calls are accepted but other options are: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-TALK (8255). The Essex County Mental Health Association Hope Line, (800) 440-8074. That last number is staffed 24-7, but the phone system handles limited calls. If there's no answer, hang up and try again. Or call 911 or go to your closest emergency room.

Mary Anne Cox holds a Suicide Survivors Support Group in Plattsburgh the second Wednesday of the month. Register with her ahead of time at 563-1141. Find information on warning signs and suicide prevention at, the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.