Lisa Barry thinks about all of her daughter Kelsey Barry’s accomplishments. As a senior at Winters Mill High School, she played varsity soccer and was a member of both the National Honors Society and National Art Honors Society.
“She was that person that always had the smile and the fun and everything,” Lisa said. "I knew she struggled with anxiety."
Kelsey took her own life in November.
“She was only 17,” Lisa said. “She was an amazing daughter.”
In the painful and confusing time after that loss, Lisa reached out to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, looking for and finding both information and support. And on Saturday, Sept. 7, she will be raising funds for the foundation through the Carroll County Out of the Darkness Walk in Krimgold Park in Woodbine, with her memories of Kelsey close to her heart.
“That’s why I walk: to honor her and also so that no other family would have to suffer that kind of loss,” Lisa said. “If I can even help one person that might be struggling, to not feel alone or to not feel like suicide is an option, that’s why I want to walk.”
It’s the fourth Out of the Darkness Walk to be held in Carroll County, according to walk co-chair Lori Barnard-Lowe.
“They are nationwide, but there’s 12 in the state this year,” she said. “They raise funds for education, advocacy, awareness, and prevention of suicide and mental illness.”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will mail out information to those who have lost someone to suicide, Barnard-Lowe said, while also funding community education and support programs.
“They fund healing conversations, which is kind of cool — it’s a peer support," she said. "If someone in the community has lost someone they can go to AFSP.org and click on ‘healing conversations’ and they will match you with someone who has had the same sort of loss.”
Same-day registration for the walk begins at 8:30 a.m. and the walk itself, with two different distance options for those participating, going from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., according to Barnard-Lowe.
"We will have two loops, one is about a mile and the other is about three miles around the park, she said. "You can sign up as a team, you can sign up as an individual. You can register the day of, but we recommend trying to do it online before. You can do that at AFSP.org/carrollcounty."
It is also not required that participants donate or raise funds, Barnard-Lowe said — anyone is welcome to come walk — although the fundraising aspect of the walks has been going well. Despite pouring rain in 2018, last year’s walk still raised about $44,000.
“Last year we had 156 walkers, and this year we have 298. So this year’s walk is going to be huge,” Barnard-Lowe said. “Unfortunately it’s because we’ve had some new loses in the community.”
There were at least 26 suicides in Carroll County in 2018, according to still-preliminary statistics from the Carroll County Health Department — the highest number of such deaths since a seven-year peak of 30 deaths in 2014. After a dip to 19 deaths in 2015, the numbers have been climbing every year since, with the majority of the deaths being white men ages 30 to 59.
There have been at least 164 suicides in total in Carroll from 2012 through 2018, according to the health department data.
But the Out of the Darkness Walk does seem to expand to meet the present needs, according to Barnard-Lowe.
“We have more community involvement last year and this year than we’ve ever had. This year [Carroll County Youth Service Bureau] is joining us, which I don’t think they have since the first year, and of course the health department,” she said. “Last year the South Carroll High School varsity football team walked with us, which was amazing.”
Also new this year will be a team from the Winfield Community Volunteer Fire Department, new because a schedule conflict prevented their participation the year prior, according to Lisa Wilson, a member of the fire company.
“The department as a whole is trying to switch away from being reactive, where you call 911 and we show up, and we’re trying to switch to a more proactive, community risk reduction approach to everything across the board,” Wilson said. “In the last couple of months we were offered additional public training and outreach, and Lori came and did a suicide prevention training that was open to the public.”
And it’s not just about making the fire company a place to educate the public about suicide.
“I was reading earlier about statistics related to first-responder suicides, and the data shows that more first-responders die by suicide than they do in line-of-duty deaths,” Wilson said. According to a white paper by the philanthropic Ruderman Family Foundation, there were 103 firefighter suicides nationwide in 2017, and 140 police suicides, whereas 93 firefighters and 129 police officers died in the line of duty.
"I am hoping that by us participating in it and bringing trainings to the department, it will help our department members open up more about it and realize that we don’t always have to be as tough as we are depicted to be,” Wilson said.
But although the majority of suicide deaths in Carroll have been older men, younger people dealing with thoughts of suicide can have a particularly difficult time, as Emmett Waters, 20, of Sykesville can tell you.
“I made my attempt shortly after middle school ended. It was between eighth grade and freshman year, which has been a very tough time for people in this area," he said. “People are expecting you to stop acting like a kid, but they are not quite treating you like an adult yet. So when you are going through something like having depression or anxiety or depression, whatever it might be, it’s hard for you to get your point across to people and have them take you seriously.”
In the years since that attempt, Waters said, his support system has grown significantly. He’s been participating and helping with the organization of the Carroll Out of the Darkness walks since their beginning, and this year, will be giving a speech at the outset.
“I just wanted to shed some light on how important it is to reach out even though you’re young and you feel like it’s kind of a tough time,” he said, noting he will also give advice on how to help those who might be struggling. "The number one thing is don’t be too overly aggressive about wanting to help them, because that can sometimes make people a little nervous. Just let them know that, hey, I am here for you if you ever need me, I love you.”
Lisa Barry hopes younger people participating in the walk will learn to look for signs of depression and anxiety among their friends, in person or on social media, and to be supportive peers who can make a difference in their friends’ lives.
“Sometimes the person struggling doesn’t tell the people who care about them because they don’t want to worry them or scare them,” she said. “They can be the voice for someone else if they just tell anyone that they are worried about someone.”
And for those who have experienced a loss to suicide, Lisa said her experience has been that getting involved with the American Society for Suicide Prevention has been therapeutic.
“I think volunteering has helped me a lot to feel like I am doing something, to feel like I am fighting for Kelsey or anyone that could be like Kelsey,” she said. “Kelsey was an amazing girl and she can’t be defined by how she died, but we definitely need the awareness out there to help with understanding how to help someone.”
If you go
What: Carroll County Out of the Darkness Walk
When: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7. Same-day registration begins 8:30 a.m.
Where: Krimgold Park, 5355 Woodbine Road, Woodbine
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For more information or to register, visit www.AFSP.org/carrollcounty.