VIRGINIA BEACH, Va.

On Sept. 8th, representatives from each of the military branches and all seven Hampton Roads cities participated in the Hampton Roads Morning of Hope at Mt. Trashmore.

The community outreach coincided with the National Suicide Prevention Week. Approximately 4,000 people attended the event, a powerful example of civilians and military coming together for a common cause.

Sponsored by the Hampton Roads Survivors of Suicide Support Group, a non-profit organization, the mission of this event was to educate the public in their understanding that: the number one cause of suicide is untreated depression; that depression is a treatable disease, and that suicide is a preventable tragedy.

The event began with the Joint Service Color Guard and the National Anthem sung by Navy Musician 3rd Class Amanda Thompson.

The emcee, WAVY-TV 10 news anchor, Tom Schaad, introduced both civilian and military on stage: Virginia Beach Mayor Louis Jones; Major General Paul Benenati, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army Training and Doctrine Command; Admiral Jesse Wilson, Commander of Naval Surface Force Atlantic; Marine Col. Thomas Campbell; Air Force Lt. Col. Chaplain Brian McCormack; and Chris Gilchrist a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and the event organizer.

Several people shared personal stories of how they had been touched by depression or suicide and how they found hope: Beth Reavis, Chris Amos, and Kym and Steve Bach.

Both military leaders had informative and encouraging messages.

“We are all in this together,” Major General Benenati explained. “Whether you a member of our Armed Forces or a citizen of the Hampton Roads community, make it your charge to look out for the well-being not only of yourself, but also your family members, your buddies, your neighbors, and the people you work with. Engage when you notice a change in a person’s regular behavior. Talk to that person, find out what’s going on, and if necessary, escort that person immediately to a professional to receive the assistance they may need.”

There were 15 counselors on site, available to support, answer questions, hand out information and to assist with a depression inventory for interested participants.

“Suicide continues to be a leading cause of death in the military, and it is fueled by the treatable disease of depression. Depression is a killing disease and we must continue to do more, “ said Admiral Jesse Wilson. “Today is an opportunity for all of us to learn, share, and understand the disease of depression and tragedy of suicide. Feelings and thoughts must be shared, and not endured silently. There is no treatment or prevention if we can’t openly speak about our struggles.”

The program concluded with participants walking through the curtain of 1,000 origami cranes.

The crane was chosen to represent the Hampton Roads Morning of Hope because it has become an international symbol of healing, peace and hope. Legend has it that if you fold 1,000 cranes your prayers will be answered. Each of the 1,000 cranes at the Morning of Hope had a prayer folded into it for healing, peace and hope not only for those who presently suffer from depression, but also for those who have died from suicide.

Participants effected by suicide could visit the Memory Wall and leave pictures of their loved ones lost to suicide or add their names to a Memory List.

Participants could also wear a colored ribbon as an armband: silver, if you have been affected or are touched by depression; red, if you lost a father or mother; green, if you lost a brother or sister; yellow, for extended family (i.e., uncle); blue, for a spouse and purple, if you lost your son or daughter to suicide.

Participants desiring to do so had their loved ones names read during the program.

It was also a Morning of celebration with complimentary coffee, and breakfast food. Family activities were provided.

The Morning of Hope concluded with an after-walk picnic with music, complementary snacks and a drawing for a hand made quilt designed with a graphic of a crane. Handmade origami cranes were given out as a memento of this Morning of Hope.

For additional information on suicide prevention, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK.

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