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Suicide prevention run/walk looking for participants

OHS graduates Jessica Pyke (left) and Felicia Jahlas want you to sign up for the Suicide Prevention 5K. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
July 11, 2012 - Suicide is one of those taboo topics that many people don't want to think about or deal with until after a tragedy befalls a family, school or community.

"People don't talk about it and they need to," said Jessica Pyke, a 2009 graduate of Oxford High School.

Pyke doesn't want to wait until it's too late. She wants to get the subject of suicide out in the open, dispel the myths that surround it and help people in crisis realize there are alternatives to making that final exit from life.

"Some people think if they end their life, they're ending every problem, but the reality is (suicide) affects everyone they leave behind," she said. "That's a message that needs to get out. They think they're ending something, but they're really not."

That's why Pyke is busy organizing the Oxford/Lake Orion Suicide Prevention 5K Run/Walk scheduled for Saturday, July 28 at Seymour Lake Township Park.

"Suicide affects people personally, but it also affects the community," said Pyke, who's a senior at Central Michigan University (CMU). "I think it's important for the community to come together, especially Oxford and Lake Orion because we've lost so many recently."

The cost to participate in this event is $15 per person and all proceeds will be donated to Common Ground, an Oakland County-based nonprofit agency dedicated to helping youths, adults and families in crisis. Common Ground serves more than 40,000 individuals every year through its various programs. To learn more, please visit www.commongroundhelps.org

Folks interested in participating can either register the day of the event beginning at 9 a.m. or by visiting the Facebook page "Oxford/Lake Orion Suicide Prevention 5K."

Participants can choose to either run a 5-kilometer course or walk a 1-mile route, whichever they're comfortable with.

Both races begin at 10 a.m.

Prior to the races, Dave Opalewski will address the crowd about suicide prevention at 9:30 a.m. He's the president of the Saginaw-based Grief Recovery, Inc. and the author of numerous books and articles on suicide prevention and related topics.

An instructor at CMU, Opalewski spent 33 years in K-12 education during which he experienced the deaths of 28 students and staff members. He visited Oxford back in February in order to help the school district and community deal with the suicide of Shane Hrischuk, a popular eighth-grader at Oxford Middle School.

Following the races, lunch will be served and there will be a memorial balloon launch to close the event. Participants will be given multicolored balloons to which they can attach messages.

"Each balloon will represent the person you're there for," said Pyke, who's a member of the CMU chapter of the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program.

Pyke hopes this event will be therapeutic as well as educational for the community.

"One lady that's helping me (organize this) just lost her brother," she said. "She told me this makes her feel like she's doing something (to help others) and it's another way for her to get in touch with (her brother) again."

For people who've lost a loved one or friend to suicide, these types of events serve as a coping mechanism by offering a way to connect with others experiencing the same type of grief and the same sense of loss, according to Pyke.

"We're going to pass out colored beads," she said. "Each color is going to represent something different, depending on who you knew who completed suicide, (whether) it was a spouse or a friend or a sibling. Losing a person to suicide can make you feel lonely. This lets you know (others) have been through it, too – you're not the only person who's lost someone."

Pyke noted it's important to remember that people who are contemplating or planning suicide "don't necessarily come out and say it."

That's why when warning signs are exhibited, it's up to family members, friends, teachers, etc. to offer their support.

"Remind them that you're there for them if they need anything," Pyke said. "Make sure you reach out."

Some warning signs include poor self-image; pulling away from friends and becoming withdrawn; going from being extroverted to introverted; excessive use of alcohol and other drugs; and changes in appearance (i.e. they once took pride in their appearance and now, they've let themselves go).

Other signs include giving away prized possessions, poor communication with family and friends, feelings of hopelessness and depression, diminishing academic performance, and losing interest in things they were once passionate about. The biggest warning sign is a history of previous suicide attempts.

For those who are having personal problems or contemplating suicide, Pyke hopes they will take advantage of resources like Common Ground's crisis hotline, which is (800) 231-1127.

"Going through high school, I had no idea who to call if I had wanted help," she said. "I think it's important to get that (information) out to high schoolers. It's a hard age."

For more information about the Oxford/Lake Orion Suicide Prevention 5K Run/Walk, please contact Pyke via e-mail at pyke1ja@gmail.com or contact Kelsey Bourbeau at bourb1kc@cmich.edu

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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