by Matthew Goldfinger
This past Sunday, hundreds of people strolled through the beautiful gardens of Old Westbury. On that cold and blustery day it was not the scenic vista of fiery fall trees, flowers and lakes that brought these people in. This crowd gathered with a common cause in mind: to raise money and awareness for issues of depression and suicide. The “Out of the Darkness Walk” is a part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The first two parts of their three part goal, “Walk to save lives, raise funds and honor loved ones,” was clearly felt as one walked by each table with information about the latest resources, educational efforts and cutting edge research.
The last goal, honoring loved ones, was the most moving for me. In the most poignant and chilling moment of the day I watched as the reception table ran out of heart-shaped stickers for people to write the name of those they had lost. As people began to tear their heart stickers in half to share, my own heart broke. As I looked around at all the photos dotting the signs and shirts of the gathered crowd, I began to think about the countless fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children and friends who were lost. All I could think was “these people looked so… NORMAL.” That was the most important message of the day. Depression and suicidal ideation are a struggle faced by so many people in our lives and yet we may never know it.
Depression is an illness (and a common one at that)! In the medical profession we read books that say this and spit back that we believe this to be true. However, there is sadly still societal stigma associated with discussing depression or asking for help and even healthcare providers are not immune. Research has shown that among medical school students with depression: 56% feel “fellow medical students would respect [their] opinions less” and 83.1% feel that “faculty members would view them” poorly if their condition was known. If this is how medical professionals feel, the general population (where the disease is less well understood) may be even harder on those seeking help.
The day was not all somber. The beautiful setting, the increasing warmth as the day wore on and the sight of so many people gathering to make a difference was heart-warming. The event raised a lot of money which will go to supporting hotlines, support groups and research all geared towards decreasing the feeling of hopelessness that drives so many to take their own lives. I know that to some extent it brings a lot of hope to those who are suffering from depression to see that the support is out there. For them, seeing how people come year after year to remember their loved ones and how many people come to show they care, may just be part of what makes them choose LIFE. That hope was infectious and, despite all of the sorrow surrounding the day, everyone appeared to be smiling and holding close to their friends and family.
It is important to consider that according to the “National Occupational Mortality Surveillance” data, physicians have the highest rate of suicide of any profession. When I walked that day I did so for everyone who has lost someone in their life and everyone who might need a helping hand to keep them hopeful. I also did it thinking of the two young doctors (about my age) who, this summer, within two weeks of one another, took their lives by leaping from the roof of their respective NYC hospitals. I walked for those who need to know that I am there for them and so that if I ever need help there will be people there for me.
On my half-heart sticker I wrote “I walk: in honor of all of my colleagues should they ever feel alone.” Later, finding another half heart on the floor, I added “I walk: so they never have to feel that way.”
As of today NYIT-COM raised $747. If you’d like to donate please go to: