RICHMOND, Va. -- An annual event encouraging people to gather in remembrance of lives lost to suicide is next weekend.
Organizers said raising awareness is the first step in spreading hope for a brighter future.
"Every one of us, in some way shape or form has been impacted by this thing called suicide," Ames Hart with the Virginia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) said.
The sometimes uncomfortable topic is one that connects a lot of people.
“Whether it's a celebrity that we fall in love with and we've lost them to suicide, whether it's a family member or a friend, it's not something that's crazy,” Hart explained. “It's not something that means somebody is weak, it means that they are struggling.”
Hart, who has been working with the Virginia chapter of the american foundation for suicide prevention for five years, said mental and physical health are both equally important.
“And we know that one in four people are going to deal with a mental health issue at sometime in their life,” Hart said.
The AFSP has been hosting their annual Out of the Darkness walks all across Virginia to raise funds that go toward suicide prevention resources to commemorate Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September.
Janelle Pierangelino, a photojournalist for WTVR CBS 6, covered the Richmond Out of the Darkness Walk last October just five months after losing her mother to suicide.
“I wasn't sure how I would react, because I was like, 'I actually relate to this more than I did before. Is something going to prompt an emotion in me? Like am I gonna be able to go through this at all?’” Pierangelino recalled. “[But] just seeing that all these people had that same dark thing in common with me. It’'s like it was oddly calming in some way.”
Pierangelino said it is important to put a face to the story that “this is everyday people, people that are sunshine, happy all the time, people that are always being the light in a room and no one would know that they're going through that.”
The same kind of light Pierangelino said shined through her mom.
“A lot of the times when I was a kid and I was with her, and she was just in that happy type of mood and, that was when it was the best,” Pierangelino said. “Just the idea of helping people like the way she did by just her smiling at anybody -- and that's like a lot of what I remember about her.”
Pierangelino said allowing others to share memories about their friends or family members can be an important part of grieving.
“Maybe they don't get to talk about this person in this way on a daily basis, because they're still struggling coming up with the words,” Pierangelino said. “I know I was like that with my mom's and it very much got me to go into counseling on my own, too.”
Hart said she cannot stress enough that isolation is not the answer -- and that people can find resources and comfort in communities like ASFP.
“It’s OK to be not OK, together,” Hart said. “Because that's the best way to not be okay, because then you have support, you have connection.”
Pierangelino said even though she was at last year's event for work, she walked away with her own moment of peace.
“It was just this calm and quietness around, and the kind of fall weather -- it was cool and still warm at the same time, just like the sun coming over,” Pierangelino remembered. “And I remember I looked up and these calm little leaves were falling down and it was just, it kinda felt like Mom was maybe there, too…”
This year's event will be held virtually on Virginia ASFP's Facebook page, but organizers are encouraging folks to walk together in their neighborhoods.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.