Jones Beach State Park was a sea of purple on the morning of Oct. 22 as more than 4,000 people came together at Field 5 to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The donations will go toward the AFSP’s goal of reducing the annual suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025. The 5K also supports friends and families of suicide victims, as well as to those struggling themselves.
“This event is powerful because it lets people know they’re not alone,” said Ann Morrison-Pacella, AFSP Long Island Area Director. “There is a whole community for people who have experienced what they’ve experienced ... by coming together and seeing all these people who are all struggling and supporting, people realize that they’re not alone.”
Morrison-Pacella said AFSP’s goal is to eliminate the stigma attached with depression. “We want people to understand that mental health is just as important as somebody’s physical health, and not to be afraid to ask for help when you need it,” she added.
According to the organization, 44,193 Americans die from suicide each year. For each death by suicide, there are 25 attempts.
Sharon Sturiano-Rocco works for a pharmaceutical company, which provides drugs that treat depression, and is an advocate of AFSP’s mission. After attending a walk, she got involved in the organization and has served on the Long Island AFSP board for three years.
Sturiano-Rocco sees how the “clinical part of depression ... damages people’s quality of life” on a day-to-day basis, but is inspired by the hope AFSP provides.
“We don’t want anyone to suffer in silence and we don’t want anyone to take their life due to an illness that they can get treatment for,” she said.
Depression can affect everyone, Sturiano-Rocco added, regardless of age or socioeconomic class.
Kat Conigliaro, a participant from Levittown who walked on “Team Mike” to honor her friend, said people may think suicide affects “a certain type of person or family,” but suicide “knows no boundaries.”
The victims of suicide are as varied as those who came to show support as many walkers wore different colored beads: purple for a friend, orange for a sibling, white for a child, red for a spouse and blue to show overall support for the cause.
Green beads, such as the ones worn by Victoria Castle, represent a personal struggle. Castle spoke during the opening ceremony and shared her own story of fighting depression.
“Last year I had the opportunity to talk a little bit about myself and what I was going through, and it was probably the most life-changing opportunity I had,” Castle said. “From feeling alone to looking down and realizing everyone here was wearing beads, and everyone was here for the same reason as me, I had a new look on life.”
Castle told the crowd to remember her face and the faces of those walking with them, because “together we are going to end suicide – it starts with us and it starts today.”
The efforts of Castle and others who walked will go toward helping the AFSP achieve their goal of raising $400,000 by the year’s end. Morrison-Pacella said the money raised helps fund education programs in high schools, colleges and community groups, as well as outreach programs to help families “who feel alone and don’t even know where to start.”
After last year’s walk, Castle was hospitalized again. But on Oct. 22, when she stood on stage, Castle had gone her longest period without a hospital stay.
“After that last hospitalization, I looked back and I realized that I stood up here, I came to this walk last year and I said I was going to be a part of stopping suicide,” Castle said. “And I will be a part in stopping suicide.”
The AFSP continues to accept donations for the walk through Dec. 31. Donations can be made at afsp.org/longislandwalk