North Bergen spreads hope and awareness for suicide prevention at ‘Out of the Darkness’ walk

They shared memories of their loves ones, laughed and cried together on this annual ‘Out of the Darkness’ Walk that took place at Braddock Park on Sunday.

“My brother’s name was George Sanchez and when he lost his life he was 21 years old,” says his sister Jeannete. “So young, vibrant, full of life — what we thought.”

“People are really taking note that it’s time to change the stigma regarding the way that we address mental health and we need to change the way we talk about mental health,” says Elizabeth Roithmayr-Clemens, area director of the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention.

“We do this every year actually in support of me,” says survivor, Leslie Fontanez. “In 2014 I tried to commit suicide, I was hospitalized within the span of six months.”

“My brother committed suicide like three years ago,” Yunelkis Navarro says.

According to Sgt. Victor Queiro, of the North Bergen Police Department, “Last year we lost a dear friend and co-worker of ours,” Sgt. Alexander Vazquez. “We wanted to show our support to his family during the walk.”

It strikes people from all walks of life, levels of success and education – sharing that lonely space that’s so encompassing they actually contemplate taking their own lives.

“Awareness for suicide prevention is definitely the key,” Queiro says.

“It means a lot that I’m in a community that they care and they want to raise awareness to not lose any loved ones and their family or friends,” Navarro says.

“It’s just a very sad situation, mental health is very real and it’s a discussion that people need to have without fear or repercussions,” says  Aimee Focaraccio, emergency care coordinator for the town of North Bergen.

They were devastated by the loss of their fellow officer and it shook the North Bergen PD to the core.

“Sgt. Vasquez and I were actually promoted on the same date,” Queiro says.  “We saw each other during shift changes on a regular basis and he was a friend of mine.”

When it first happened, Leslie didn’t know much about  what was going on.

“After when we came to these walks, I met a lot of different people who suffer themselves who’ve lost family members themselves and it’s brought together a sense of unity Community is what helps us who are struggling continue to keep going,” Fontanez says.

It’s best to just find someone that you can talk to if you’re contemplating suicide.

“It’s not a solution, it’s a final option — it’s never a good one. So, they get that message out. I think it also helps some of the families here; they know that they’re not alone,” says Commissioner Julio Marenco.

No one ever discussed suicide, there weren’t any mental health awareness groups, there weren’t any walks like this, so to find their place after having such a loss, Jeannette says was very hard…

“We kinda felt like this would be so amazing to bring to our community because what happened to us we almost felt like we had to suffer in silence,” Sanchez says.

There are more resources than ever before, so you don’t have to do this alone.

“Suicide Prevention Hotline, the Crisis Text Line or the national numbers: 1-800-273-8255 and the Crisis Text Line is 741741. And then local community resources as well,” Roithmayr-Clemens says.

When you feel overwhelmed and it’s tough to go on.

“Be open and honest about any issues that you have concerning depression or mental health and get any help that you need without being ashamed of it,” Fontanez says. “These day and age people are afraid but there’s nothing to be afraid of to ask for help.”

According to Roithmayr-Clemens, “When you’re struggling, that it’s ok that you’re struggling and here’s the help that you can get. So I think we’re seeing more of the awareness because we’re starting to create this culture that is smart about mental health and making people feel comfortable to reach out.

Spiking suicide rates reveal a public health crisis that can’t be ignored.

“Maybe we’ll never eradicate it but at least minimize it where this won’t be necessary any more,” Marenco says.

This was a day for George, for them… and Jeannette says she’s sure every other family that was there for their loved one felt the same way.

“We miss him more than anything,” Sanchez says of her brother.  “It’s unfortunate that this happened because we never saw it coming. Hindsight, like my mom says is 20/20 and now that after it happened we see all the signs.”

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