Breaking down the stigma: Community walk draws attention to mental health, suicide prevention
Monitor - 1/8/2018
EDINBURG - Strength through somber times is what the 6th Annual Out of the Darkness community walk stood for Saturday.
Held at the Edinburg Municipal Park, about 500 participants gathered under the north pavilion for the walk around the park as a way of reflecting those who have gone too soon due to mental health issues.
Mental health includes the state of emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It is processed in how we think, act and feel. It also includes someone's mood or behavior. Some factors may include biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry, life experiences, such as abuse and family history of mental health problems.
Melissa Hinojosa-Zamora, founder for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Southern Texas Chapter, started the nonprofit organization locally in memory of her father, Miguel Hinojosa.
"My father died in 1980 when I was a child," Hinojosa-Zamora explained. "It took a long time for me to understand it, so I did research to find out more information about it.
"I kept it to myself and was afraid to talk to anyone about it, but one day I was talking to a friend of mine, Missy, and told her about my dad."
As the conversation progressed, the friend told Hinojosa-Zamora that she too lost her brother to suicide. They continued sharing stories and learned they had similarities related to what had occurred and through that sharing the Southern Texas chapter was established in the Rio Grande Valley.
"This walk is supposed to be a safe forum," Hinojosa-Zamora said. "We need to break down the stigma about mental health because suicide is preventable."
Melissa "Missy" Garcia Moreno lost her sibling to suicide and has become co-founder for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Southern Texas Chapter. She shared that she sometimes goes through waves of emotions at times.
Garcia Moreno lost her brother Ricardo at the age of 49 to an apparent suicide in February 2011. He was a priest in Brownsville.
"We never knew. It blindsided us. President's Day will never be the same to us," she said. "I talked to him two days before. I was at a friend's house and I remember I told my husband something was off and I told him, I'll call you back, we're here at a friend's house."
The family eventually found out he was depressed and taking medication.
"He hid it from everybody. To us, he was the strong one ? the glue that held us together," she said. "We had no clue."
"There's such a stigma here in the Valley that actually, as a family, we decided not to tell people how my brother died, due to having fear of the questions." Garcia Moreno said.
She is also a teacher with the Edinburg school district and sometimes witnesses students acting differently within the schools, like bullying through social media.
"It's like videotape, take picture, post it and send to someone else," she added. "People find it so easy behind a phone to say ugly words behind a screen."
Another family who experienced this heartache is the Ybarras. Joe and Sandra Ybarra lost their 20-year-old son Jonathan in 2016 to suicide, as well.
"He loved sports; he loved football, basketball - loved the Spurs and Cowboys," Sandra recalled about her son. "For the most part, he was more to himself; he didn't like going out."
"I think he got to his lowest for some reason. One day, out of nowhere, he decided to do it," she said.
Sandra recalls him having problems throughout his short life and didn't tell anyone, not even family about it.
"There were no signs, he was fine," Joe said about the way he acted. "He hid it very well."
The parents recalled sometimes, he would say, "I hate my life," but wasn't sure why he did it and it was something unexpected.
Founder Hinojosa-Zamora and many parents say, "communication is key."
During the event Saturday, in an area of the north pavilion, there were several ways to remember a loved one.
To one side stood a lattice filled with cardboard butterflies that were hung by families. Some expressed sentiments such as "I miss you so much" to "We will love you forever." Others had photos of loved ones.
In another area, a tree donated by the city of Edinburg with a circular bench was the collection point for several small stones. They held hand-written notes from family members expressing their emotions. Underneath the bench was a larger stone that read, "In memory of our loved ones lost to suicide and to those that continue to struggle daily."
Another reminder featured military boots with American flags and a small poster that read: "20 veterans die by suicide each day." In addition, 21 backpacks were laid out on the grass and with the message: "On average, 21 college students take their lives in a week."
For more information on the nonprofit organization RGV chapter visit them at www.facebook.com/AFSPRGV or the national page, www.afsp.org .