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3rd annual Walk/Remembrance Saturday, Sept. 9

TRYON – As a kick-off to World Suicide Prevention Week Sept. 10-17 and Sept. 10 being National Suicide Prevention Day, the 3rd annual Walk/Remembrance will be held at Harmon Field next Saturday, Sept. 9.

Mary Wells Prioleau and Tamara Black started the walk/remembrance in 2015 after both lost loved ones to suicide.

The Walk/Remembrance will be from 6-9 p.m. at the Harmon Field track area. There will be free T-shirts, food, beverages and candles provided. There will also be music, a few speakers, a dove release in honor of those who have lost their struggle and a walk to offer hope to those who are struggling. Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene will MC the event and the Polk County basketball team will cook for the event. There are also many sponsors as the event is free to the public because of donations.

Black said she and Prioleau started the walk just a few months after her youngest brother passed away.

“Jaheir was 22 years old when he made the decision to end his life,” said Black. “I wanted to bring awareness to a subject that is often hidden from society’s view while at the same time showing support for those who continue to suffer from mental illness.”

Prioleau lost her youngest daughter, Caroline, three years ago this October.

“Since Caroline’s death I have been directly touched by 27 deaths by suicide with the vast majority being under 30 years old,” Prioleau said. “Tamara and I make an especially good team. She is spectacular and in a position to guide youth and their parents providing preventative resources. I have become someone folks reach out to in grief.”

Prioleau said each new visit she has with a family member opens wounds but is cathartic for both of them.

“Something Tamara and I, along with our families, have learned is that others are often reluctant to mention Carolina or Jah because of the circumstances,” Prioleau said. “For all in our position, I wish folks would understand the loss of a loved one is significant forever. Mental illness and severe depression is no more a choice than cancer.”

Polk County has the second highest suicide rate per capita in the state.

In 2016, Polk County had 13 suicides, two being between the age of 20-40 years old, six between the age of 40-60 and five between the age of 60-80, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Polk County had 24 unattended deaths in 2016, which means a person is not found for days, weeks or months. Unattended deaths sometimes occur from suicide or when a person dies and does not have family or friends nearby to check on them.

Polk County also had 30 calls for drug overdose reported in 2016 and 46 calls for attempted suicide, according to sheriff’s office figures.

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness and serious mental illness costs the United States $193 billion in lost earnings annually. Approximately 10.2 million adults have co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders and 8 million adults experience mental illness in a year. The National Alliance on Mental Illness also says 90 percent of people who die by suicide suffer from underlying mental illness.

An American dies by suicide every 12.3 minutes in the United States, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In North Carolina, a person died by suicide every six hours in 2016 and for every successful suicide, there are 25 attempts. There are 22 suicides by veterans across the country every day.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in North Carolina for people ages 15-34.

The Walk/Remembrance began in 2015 and grew significantly in attendance last year with more than 300 people.

Black said the first year the walk brought her so many mixed emotions.

“I was confronting my brother’s death head on and that was scary for both myself and my family,” Black said. “To see so many come out and that first year reading so many names off the list of those who passed was a huge reality check. There were so many others like myself that needed a sense of peace and needed to know that they are not alone.”

Prioleau said plans are to form a nonprofit this year and become a year-round vessel for ensuring continued conversations throughout the community by utilizing the many organizations and resources available.

“Our focus will be the schools,” Prioleau said. “We are already planning for the holidays and hopefully a program to be implemented in middle school.”

Black said the walk to her means hope for all those who are left behind to deal with the aftermath of a person’s choice to end their life and also for those who struggle daily to make it through one day at a time.

“I want our community and those around us to know that mental illness sees no color, no economical difference, no gender, no particular age,” Black said. “It exists and it is real.”