Sunday, April 21st, 2019

Hampton Roads Morning of Hope Story


Healing and help for those touched by depression and suicide

by Angela Slevin

Chris Gilchrist, LCSW

Chris Gilchrist, LCSW

Why? How could you? What if? As agonizing as shards of glass through one’s heart, these are the questions with which survivors of suicide are left to painfully wrestle. However, they are not alone. There is help to bring healing and peace: the Hampton Roads Morning of Hope.

This annual event for suicide prevention  has become much more – it is for anyone touched by depression or the tragedy of suicide. It is a morning of awareness, remembrance and  celebration for hope for the future.

Christine F. Gilchrist has been organizing this mental health event since the beginning. She is a licensed clinical social worker and has been in practice for over 30 years. “Science has shown us that depression is a real medical illness, a treatable disease,” Chris emphasizes. “When we all work together to raise awareness of depression as a disease, we can defeat it. Untreated depression is the number one cause of the tragedy of suicide.”

The Hampton Roads Morning of Hope will be on Saturday, September 8 at Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach. It is sponsored by the Hampton Roads Survivors of Suicide Support Group, Inc. which is a non-profit, local entity. There is no charge to participate in the Hampton Roads Morning of Hope, although registration is required in order to get a headcount. Of course, the generosity of Virginians is almost legendary; any donations are always appreciated, and all funds raised stay right here in Hampton Roads.

Tom Schaad of WAVY-TV 10 reads the names of over 200 loved ones lost to the tragedy of suicide

Tom Schaad of WAVY-TV 10 reads the names of over 200 loved ones lost to the tragedy of suicide

The event starts at 8:30 a.m., and the program starts at 9:30 with a Joint Service Color Guard consisting of eight individuals drawn from the Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard, a sight seldom seen by the average American. For the first time, the national anthem will be sung by a woman, SSgt. Melissa Lackore, who is also a member of the Air Force. Tom Schaad of WAVY-TV 10 will welcome the crowd.

Speakers who have lost a loved one to suicide will tell their stories. Those who have recovered from the illness of depression will share their journeys back to good mental health. Fifteen welcoming counselors will be onsite to give out booklets, assist with a depression inventory and give anyone more information about the signs of depression and suicide, and what to do to help a loved one.

“Depression creates a distorted perception of reality,” Chris explains. “There is a chemical imbalance in the brain that results in impaired thinking. The person suffering from this can’t comprehend that their friends and family care about them, and that their situation in life is actually positive. They feel hopeless that anything will ever change, helpless to do anything about it, and they feel worthless, as if everyone would be better off without them.”

“When we all work together
to raise awareness of depression
as a disease, we can defeat it.
Untreated depression
is the number one cause
 of the tragedy of suicide.”

—Christine F. Gilchrist, L.C.S.W

Taking one’s life as a solution to suffering from depression is not reality-based thinking. Medicine and therapy are often needed to fight this disease.

“I’ve never heard of a suicide that wasn’t preventable,” Chris says. “People can feel ashamed, stigmatized, and don’t ask for help; and it’s not only those suffering from depression, but their circle of friends and family, too.”

Over 70 percent of those who take their lives give warning signs, but unfortunately those around them often don’t take the clues seriously enough. They may fear that they will plant the seed of suicide if they question their loved one too closely, but many experts now agree this risk is much smaller than the risk of keeping quiet. Some red flags are substance abuse, a lack of joy or interest in anything, feelings of anxiety or guilt, anger or irritability, neglect of responsibilities and appearance, and withdrawal from friends and family.

“Sadly, many members of the military suffer together with their brothers and sisters in the community when it comes to coping with depression and suicide,” Major General Malcolm Frost, Commanding General for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Training, U.S. Army Training, says. “In this fight, we must all stand united and jointly share the responsibility of identifying those in need and getting them the help they deserve. We need more events like this across America to show our solidarity and commitment to making a difference.”

A Joint Service Color Guard representing  all branches of the armed forces will begin the 2018 Morning of Hope event

A Joint Service Color Guard representing all branches of the armed forces will begin the 2018 Morning of Hope event

Indeed, some say this community outreach is the most powerful example of civilians and the military coming together for a common cause. Civic leaders from every city in Hampton Roads and military leaders from every branch of the armed forces will be present at the Hampton Roads Morning of Hope, underlining the reality that depression, though a devastating disease, is treatable.

Survivors will wear colored ribbons around their wrists in remembrance of their lost loved ones: red for a mother or father; green for a brother or sister; blue for a husband or wife; purple for a son or daughter; yellow for extended family, or silver for a friend or if one has been affected by depression. The feeling of community created by wearing these ribbons is amazing: total strangers reach out to comfort one another when they see that they share a mutual tragedy. They give each other hope that one day, the stigma and shame of depression and suicide will fade away, as has happened with other diseases, like cancer, and that loved ones will get help and get better.

And so, there is hope even in the midst of so much sadness—and that is cause for celebration.  Complimentary refreshments will be offered during the event: chicken biscuits from Chick-fil-A, coffee from Starbucks, honey buns from Flowers Baking Co., energy bars from Sam’s Club, and Rita’s Italian Ice. There will be crafts: folding origami cranes (a symbol of peace, healing and hope) and decorating Frisbees with stickers and glitter. Complimentary group photos for family and friends will be available. But perhaps most important of all will be the opportunity to openly talk, text, post and tweet about depression as a treatable disease. No one should die of shame.

Hampton Roads Morning of Hope

3802 Poplar Hill Road
Chesapeake, 23321

(757) 483-5111