Alma Cerda hopes 159 pairs of shoes spotlighted at Northwest State Community College in Archbold will send a clear message: Mental illness is not a weakness, and suicide is preventable.
The prevention specialist with Four County Family Center has collaborated with the Four County Suicide Prevention Coalition to present “Stomp on the Stigma,” a display through Saturday of old footwear to raise awareness for Suicide Prevention Month. The shoes will be displayed on the north side of campus leading to the college atrium, and may continue on the east side campus entrance near Building A. The atrium will also hold a resource table.
Cerda said the shoes and accompanying signs showing statistics regarding depression and suicide offer the stark realization about the second leading cause of death for youth between 18-24.
She said the shoes displayed “are just a reminder that that was someone’s life. We want people to understand that this was a life that was lost.”
The display has already been viewed at the Fulton County Fair, and will travel to Defiance College for the week of Sept. 18. And on Saturday, Sept. 23, the annual One Step At A Time walk and run will be held in Defiance to raise funds to bring awareness to suicide prevention.
The used shoes in the display were collected locally during the last two weeks of August. Cerda, whose own mother died by suicide, said they represent the loss of 159 individuals from the four-county area between 2008-16. During that time, reported deaths by suicide included 52 in Fulton County, 30 in Henry County, 38 in Defiance County, and 39 in Williams County. The highest category was among middle-aged men.
Signs accompanying the display relay facts about depression, which offers the strongest risk factor for suicide, and information about firearms, the method used by over half of suicide victims.
“Sometimes, (people) just feel complete hopelessness and helplessness,” Cerda said. “Fewer than half of people don’t consider depression to be a health problem because they still consider it a character flaw or a weakness. The old way of thinking is hard to get away from. More people need to become aware and learn about it.”
She said the feedback received from the display has been encouraging. “(People) didn’t realize how many people were passing away by suicide,” she said.
Depression is a mental illness, Cerda said, “and we do try to emphasize that depression is treatable, and suicide is preventable. Any kind of awareness, even if someone reads it, this is a good thing, because it’s a hard subject to talk about.”
But talking about it is important if there is concern an individual is considering suicide, she said. “Most of the time, there are clear warning signs that that’s what they have planned,” she said. They can include the person talking about death, putting their affairs in order, risky behaviors, and a sudden, positive change in mood that could indicate they’ve reached a decision about suicide.
NSCC spokesperson Jim Bellamy said the college is happy to work with organizations to spread the word of suicide prevention.
“One is too many. We just want to do what we can to introduce awareness and provide whatever help and assistance our students need,” he said.
Tonie Long of the Four County Suicide Prevention Coalition, and director of quality improvement for the four-county ADAMhs Board, said the shoe display is a powerful reminder of how deeply suicide can affect families.
“One of the best things we can do is educate the public and make them aware of the fact that suicide does occur in our four-county area,” she said. “When you see those shoes it really brings that message home that those people died by suicide. We can reach out to everyone and let them know through awareness it occurs.”
For more information on suicide prevention, visit 4countysuicide prevention.org.