Mother and daughter duo Melissa and Mikayla Harshman have literally and figuratively trekked through the night to reach the dawn together.
The Bristow residents joined almost 2,000 others to raise funds and awareness for suicide prevention during the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk in Washington, D.C. on June 1. According to the AFSP, suicide takes 38,000 lives per year in the United States, making it one of the top ten leading causes for death.
The two women have both fought their own battles with the illness of depression along with suicidal tendencies. When she was younger, Melissa attempted to take her life several times before seeking treatment to deal with her depression. Mikayla, a 17-year-old high school junior, found herself combating depression at the age of 14, which led up to her own suicide attempt.
“I was very resentful to [accepting] help. Once I accepted it, I realized that I wanted anybody else who had problems to get help,” Mikayla said.
The difference in Melissa and Mikayla’s stories and the stories of those who committed suicide stems from their ability to receive and accept help. While the AFSP reports that 90 percent of suicide victims have a diagnosed psychiatric disorder, most go untreated. The Harshmans were able to address their depression before it was too late. They reached out for assistance in order to deal with the issues surrounding the illness.
“I actually sought out help, which a lot of people do not do. There is such a stigma attached to it,” said Melissa. Many believe that people who suffer from depression merely seek attention or exaggerate their inability to be happy. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the stigma associated with mental illness “can cause affected persons to deny symptoms; delay treatment… and interfere with recovery.”
Mikayla finds these stereotypes to be prevalent among her peers. “They are old enough to understand, but they just aren’t educated about it,” she said.
Since Melissa and Mikayla have both dealt with the reality of depression and received proper treatment, their goal in participating in the Out of the Darkness Walk was to begin chipping away at the stigmas and to encourage others whose lives have been affected by the illness.
The Harshmans started training as early as February for the 16-mile walk and came to the opening ceremony on George Washington University’s grounds prepared for the unifying experience.
After the opening ceremony, the group started their walk through the night, stopping about every two miles for water or snacks. Along the way, Melissa and Mikayla met others who are dealing with the aftermath of suicide. They met a woman who lost her 12-year-old daughter to suicide after being bullied in school. Another woman had several family members take their lives, and she had recently been diagnosed breast cancer. Neither of these women were letting their situation dampen their spirits or support for the cause.
“What part of the human spirit has that kind of strength? Given all of that, they are still here raising money for suicide awareness and prevention,” Melissa said.
After completing the journey in the early morning hours, the participants finished back at George Washington University. Thousands of paper bags with tiny candles lit inside and decorated with the names of loved ones lost to suicide lined the University’s park. The effect was that of every name of a victim illuminated, remembered.
“You look at [all of the names] and it’s just, like, this is huge. It’s a big thing to be a part of because you don’t realize it everyday… There are these suicides that happen everyday, and you never hear about it,” Mikayla said.
After participating in such a large event, Melissa and Mikayla have been inspired to work on behalf of ASFP. Melissa has begun to focus on the military veterans who return from war with post-traumatic stress disorder and signs of depression but choose not to seek treatment.
“Most military guys are just not willing to go get help. There is this kind of shame attached to it, and there shouldn’t be,” Melissa said.
The Harshmans are now trying to organize a three to five mile community walk through Old Town Manassas with the help of ASFP in order to raise funds and awareness locally.
The struggles of depression are a sometimes fatal reality. If you or someone you know battle suicidal thoughts, call the ASFP’s crisis hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Talk with your doctor about any ongoing struggles with depression and reach out to others to find help—the recent walk is a reminder that you are not alone. You can also visit the ASFP website at www.afsp.org for more information.
Lauren Jackson is a Liberty University student pursuing a degree in English and Journalism. She lives with her military family in Prince William. She can be reached at [email protected]