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Walking out of the darkness
May 25, 2012, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

Christine Folan

Emma Gutierrez

When South San Francisco resident Christine Folan’s mother died 30 years ago, no one really talked about it.

It was years before Folan, who was 12 at the time but now is an adult, understood that her mom took her own life after dealing with depression. Details of her mom’s struggle with depression, including time spent in the hospital, were not shared with Folan right away.

"I wasn’t sent to counseling or anything. No one talked about it. That’s just not how this was handled,” she said of the times.

But Folan believes suicide and depression should be discussed as a means for prevention. A supporter of educating people of the problems and options to get help, Folan will be one of hundreds who will walk 18 miles at part of the Out of the Darkness Overnight walk in San Francisco June 9. Considered a symbolic walk, those participating are raising money to help fund the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’ research, education and prevention initiatives designed to reduce the loss of life from suicide as well as provide support for survivors. Participating survivors are using it as a way to talk with people about depression and suicide to debunk the taboo nature of the topic. Doing so, local women participating said, will hopefully allow others to seek help for depression rather than consider suicide.

"It needs to be talked about,” said Folan who, since participating in AFSP events, has learned many people have friends or family members who have been affected by either depression or suicide.

Folan plans to wear a special sweatshirt during the walk with her mom’s photo on it and the names of donors supporting her efforts.

Emma Gutierrez, also of South San Francisco, will be participating in the overnight walk in memory of her nephew, Julian, who killed himself in October 2010.

The news came as a shock for Gutierrez who learned Julian had made a suicide pact with his twin brother. Both boys had struggled with depression but only shared that with each other. Their grandmother similarly battled depression but, through help, was able to manage it. As a result, the family never really spoke about the issue.

Gutierrez wants to be sure other families don’t suffer the same tragedy simply because they didn’t talk about opportunities to get help.

Gutierrez is participating with family members, a four-person team. It’s an experience that’s brought them closer.  

A person dies every 15 minutes by suicide in the United States meaning about 90 people take their own life daily, according to the AFSP website. More than 34,000 people die in the United States annually by suicide. It is the fourth leading cause of death for adults in the United States between the ages of 18 to 65. For each death, there are eight to 25 suicide attempts.

More than 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffered from major depression. That number increases if the statistics include alcoholics who are depressed. Depression affects nearly 10 percent of Americans over 18, more than 24 million people.


The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is the only national nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research and education, and to reaching out to people with mood disorders and those affected by suicide.


Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: heather@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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