CARLISLE — Joanne Fry speaks from experience.
She doesn’t want to, but she feels she has to.
Fry lost her husband and son to suicide in the last two years, and she was one of several mental illness survivors crowding onto the Cumberland County Courthouse steps for a candlelight vigil Sunday night marking the beginning of National Mental Illness Awareness Week, which runs through Oct. 11.
The goal: bringing mental health issues out of the shadows.
“There is help out there for people if they just reach out,” Fry explained. “There is a better choice than suicide. Their life is important. Their life does have meaning, and there is help. There is help for them, and we care.”
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, surpassing both homicide and death by auto accident. With that in mind, Cumberland County rolled out a new public service campaign during the vigil.
“As we approach sunset, we start to enter into the darkness,” Joseph Alex Martin, chairman of the Cumberland/Perry Community Support Program, said as those in the crowd began to ignite their wicks. “These candles represent hope, the hope of finding our way out of the darkness and towards the light.”
With gentle flames illuminating the faces of county officials, mental health survivors, family members and supporters of eliminating the stigma of mental health, two public service announcements developed by the county were debuted.
The 30-second commercials are part of a campaign made possible by a $14,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse awarded to the county in 2013.
In the first video, county employees and bystanders promise to “keep pushing on,” a message of hope that often is lost for individuals dealing with mental health issues.
Along with Fry, some in the crowd shared their stories, letting others know they are not alone.
Mental illness survivor Pamela Palmer joked that she has two roommates: her hamster and a bicycle.
“I also have another roommate,” Palmer said. “Her name is bipolar schizoaffective something or other ... Basically, she’s a roommate I’ve lived with for quite a number of years. Sometimes she is great to be around. Sometimes she needs a lot of rest, and sometimes she needs more.”
This personal narrative approach is the focus of the second video, which revolves around the story of Kisandra Glogowski, who also spoke Sunday.
In college, Glogowski was an avid swimmer until the day she was a victim of an armed robbery. While her body healed from the attack, she is still dealing with the mental injury inflicted upon her. Glogowski suffered post traumatic stress disorder as a result of her attack.
“Any of us could experience a mental illness at any time in our lives,” said Annie Strite, mental health programs specialist for Cumberland and Perry County Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. “It’s one of those things that, depending on what life dishes out to us, has that kind of impact for us. ... I’m so thankful for people who are willing to tell their stories, because it’s not easy to stand in front of a group people and say, ‘You know what? Life was not easy for me at this point in my life, but I’m choosing to be well. I’m choosing to work on becoming well.’”
Nearly 150 people in Cumberland County died due to suicide between 2007 and 2011, according the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
For Strite, more needs to be done try to save those lives.
“Whenever we see a friend who’s maybe hurting, you know it’s OK, rather than talking about or around it, ask that person, ‘Do you think you might harm yourself?’” Strite said. “We all need to step up and work hard and support each other, because that’s what community does.”
Both videos will be available for viewing on the Cumberland and Perry County Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ Facebook page and will air on local TV.