Rachel Valis is so adamant about raising public awareness of suicide prevention that she has opened up to tell her own tragic story in hopes of improving public understanding of the issue and helping others.
Ms. Valis, 34, head of the board of directors of the Northwest Ohio American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Chapter-in-formation, has lost her mother and an aunt to suicide.
“Mental illness issues run in the family. I am being treated for depression myself. I am not going to be ashamed. Our entire family is very aware of and in tune with this,” she said, adding that suicide is a tragic outcome of mental illness, which is why she is not embarrassed to talk openly about the issue.
“If I had breast cancer, it wouldn’t be a sensitive [issue]. That’s why I’m talking about it, because people need to accept it as an illness,” said Ms. Valis, a study director at an area medical research organization. “Mental illness is a public health issue; one of the biggest things I am working on is reducing the stigma regarding mental illness. My mom and aunt died from an illness just like anybody dies from cancer and [other illnesses].”
Her mother died in December, 2004, a little more than a year after her wedding, when the mother and daughter took what Ms. Valis describes as one of their last good photographs together.
Quoting from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 statistics, she said suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. The propensity for suicide knows no economic status, race, or age group, she said.
“It hits all ages. I’ve heard of deaths by suicide in kids as young as 8, and that’s unbelievable to me. I want the people of Toledo and northwest Ohio to see that this is serious. It’s important for people to see that it’s real,” said Ms. Valis.
A few years after her mother’s death, Ms. Valis – who grew up in Leipsic, Ohio, moved away for five years and then returned to the area – learned about the suicide prevention foundation while she lived in central New York. Four years ago, she became active in the organization. The local nonprofit group has been in the process of formation since 2010, she said. Once it meets the national organization’s requirements and earns a charter, it will be granted chapter status.
Among the group’s awareness and fund-raising activities is a golf outing planned for Friday at Stone Ridge Golf Club in Bowling Green. Tee time is 1 p.m. Donations will be earmarked for research, education, and community initiatives. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details. The volunteers also plan an Out of the Darkness Community Walk for Sept. 28 at Centennial Terrace in Sylvania. More details will follow.
The foundation Web site states that some 90 percent of the people who die from suicide had a diagnosable, treatable psychiatric illness at the time of their deaths.
“So the biggest risk factor for suicide is mental illness, any kind of mental health issue. Statistics show that there’s a higher incidence [of suicide] in males than females. Females have more attempts, and males have more deaths. It doesn’t matter what race or economic status – nobody is immune to this. Mental illness can present itself is in many different ways,” Ms. Valis said, citing some conditions as general anxiety disorders and bipolar disorders.
“Just pay attention. When you see there has been a shift in a person’s personality and how they dealt with the situation, then I encourage them to talk to their doctor,” she said. “Any threat of suicide or self harm should be taken seriously. That’s another warning sign. A lot of people who have died by suicide told somebody of their intent.”
An adult suicide support group meets every third Monday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at All Saints Lutheran Church, 5445 Heatherdowns Blvd. Also, support groups for adults, teenagers, and children meet every first Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Olivet Lutheran Church, 5840 Monroe St., Sylvania.
Contact Rose Russell at email@example.com or 419-724-6178.