This year’s suicide awareness walk could be biggest one yet

Just over 100 people participated in South Williamsport resident Madison Losell’s first suicide prevention walk at the South Williamsport Complex in 2016 and helped raise about $1,300 toward the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Gearing up for her third event, Losell now has nearly 800 people interested in participating based on her Facebook event page.

Losell started the walk as part of her senior project, a graduation requirement for seniors at South Williamsport High School, in the memory of a friend who committed suicide.

“I lost a friend around six years ago,” Losell said. “She was a big part of my life and I wanted to do something in her honor.”

Though fewer people attended Losell’s second event, she raised nearly twice as much money, donating over $2,100 to the foundation. So she’s hopeful that this year’s walk, slated for noon to 2 p.m. April 20 at the complex, will bring in a big haul to help raise awareness of and prevent suicide.

“If even half of those people (who are interested on Facebook) come, we’ll have four times the number we had at the first year,” she said.

Now a Lycoming College student balancing a criminal justice major and psychology minor with two part-time jobs, Losell said planning the walk takes a lot of effort.

She needs permission from the borough to use the complex, a hefty event insurance policy — which, thankfully, has been donated each year, she said — and plenty of outreach and advertising to get the word out and collect donations.

In addition to the walk, the event includes a basket raffle with goods donated from area businesses, bracelets with the message, “You woke up today. There’s a reason for that,” and baked goods provided by Losell’s grandmother. Losell and her mom also sew bandanas for pets with designs screenprinted by her father.

Despite all the work that goes into it, Losell said the event is worthwhile.

“It’s a big deal,” she said. “It’s important.”

Lycoming County’s number of annual suicides regularly exceeds the national average, said Chuck Kiessling, county coroner.

The annual national average is about 13 suicides per 100,000 people, he said. Lycoming County lost 25 people to suicide last year, 18 in 2017, 16 in 2016 and 19 in 2015. Of those 25 people in 2018, there were 16 males and nine females ranging in ages from 17 up to 87.

“It’s fluctuated since 2008, but we definitely are running higher than the national average,” Kiessling said.

Suicide is defined as the death of an individual by their own doing, so anything from hanging oneself to overdosing to carbon monoxide poisoning could be ruled suicide. However, “in most cases,” there’s a note or some other indication of intent, he said.

One of the ways the coroner’s office hopes to prevent suicides is by making resources more available to people at risk.

Prescription pads and magnets with contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline are given out in doctors offices to those who doctors think might consider suicide, such as patients prescribed with antidepressants or other similar medications.

“The numbers don’t reflect that we’re making progress, but you don’t know,” Kiessling said. “The numbers only reflect successful suicides. You don’t know if someone reached out.”

Kiessling added that legislative action to remove firearms from owners with documented mental health problems might also save lives.

Of the 25 suicides in the county last year, 15 were caused by firearms, he said.

“They’re a preventable death,” Kiessling said of all suicides. “They’re tragic. It’s hard for all of us.”

While suicide is tragic, and events organized in memoriam of those who have committed suicide can be somber and sad, Losell said she doesn’t want her walk to bring people down.

“Let’s celebrate the life that they did live, and look at our lives and make the most of them,” she said.