In April, Cathy Ambrose and her husband received a difficult phone call: One of their friends living in Boston had died by suicide.
The friend had graduated from Harvard and struggled with mental health issues for several years. As a board member for Hope4Utah, a nonprofit focused on suicide awareness and prevention, Ambrose knew she wanted to help those in her community who faced the same challenges.
“Mental health issues are real. Anxiety is real. And a lot of time, it is too taboo to talk about it,” she said. “They think it's is this deep, dark secret, and it’s not. It really needs to not be. It’s OK to ask for help and it’s OK to talk about your feelings. It’s OK for things to be hard.”
She helped organize the Hope4Orem Faith Walk, an annual event where community members from three religions walk several blocks together to each house of worship.
Some studies show that believing in a religion or faith reduces the risk of suicide, Ambrose added.
“Suicide affects every denomination,” she said. “Our main goal is to unite and start the conversation that suicide affects everybody.”
On Saturday, at least 100 people showed up in white T-shirts and wrote hopeful messages on white flags to carry on the walk.
The group started at the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Orem, walked by a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel and ended at the Orem Community Church.
Samantha Figueroa, of Orem, recently worked as a teacher at the Utah State Hospital and learned about the Faith Walk by browsing activities for the Orem Summerfest.
“As I was reading about it, I don’t know, I just started crying,” she said. “I think most people have experienced moments in their lives when they just want to give up.”
She and her mother, Rochelle Anderson, both participated in the walk in honor of family members and friends who struggle with depression and other mental health issues.
“The more we talk about it, the more we get it out there and tell each other we’re struggling and it becomes OK to talk about,” Anderson said.
Her father worked as a therapist and suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts, she explained. He would often talk about his struggles with his children, which in turn encouraged them to talk about mental health issues with each other.
“That’s the hard thing about depression, is that it lies to you. It tells you that you’ve always felt this way, you’ve never felt any other way, you’ll never feel any other way,” Anderson said. “It’s nice to be able to talk to each other about it.”
For more than a decade, the suicide rate in Utah has been higher than the national average, according to statistics from the Utah Department of Health.
Around 627 people die from suicide every year across the state, and approximately 4,574 people make suicide attempts.
Pastor Martha Moler at the Orem Community Church said she didn’t participate in the Faith Walk this year but felt inspired to create handouts and stand outside the church building to greet attendees as they arrived.
“When I heard about it, I thought we need to welcome people and thank people,” she said. “I think it’s really important to be welcoming with no other agenda. That’s what we try to do on Sunday and that’s what we tried to do today.”