Walking event seeks to raise awareness for suicide prevention

By Gregory Harutunian for Chronicle Media

Leonetta Rizzi, executive director of the McHenry County Mental Health Board, and Michael Rein, the McHenry County coroner, at last year’s Suicide Prevention Walk. (Photo courtesy of McHenry County Suicide Prevent Task Force)

The rising number of suicide fatalities taking place in McHenry County, especially since 2019, has made efforts by the McHenry County Suicide Prevention Task Force to bring an understanding to the trend, all the more valuable. Their mission is to raise awareness, provide education, implement prevention programs, and support those affected by suicide within McHenry County.

The Crystal Lake-based agency has opened registration for its second Suicide Prevention Walk Event, “Never Walk Alone,” stepping off at 10 a.m. Sept. 30.

The 2.8-mile walk on a course in The Dole, located at 401 Country Club Road in Crystal Lake, is a fundraiser that directly benefits the community.

“With the increasing deaths by suicide in McHenry County, the walk and efforts of the Suicide Prevention Task Force are vital to help get the message of hope out to those in our community, who are struggling,” said Leonetta Rizzi, the McHenry County Mental Health Board’s executive director. “One’s life may never be the same from traumas, and difficult situations. Learning to let go, accept the situation or changes, and overcome negative situations, can bring one greater peace and even happiness in the future.

“And you don’t have to do this alone. Reach out, when you’re having painful thoughts, feel unsafe, or alone,” she said. “Survivors of suicide, those who have lost loved ones, have expressed time and time again, they wish their loved one had told them how they were feeling. There is hope and there’s a solution to every situation. It may not be what one wants, but in time, you can learn to adapt to a new way of being.”

The office of McHenry County Coroner Michael Rein has issued data showing a rising trend in the number of suicides as a cause of death. In 2020, there were 25 attributable fatalities, and 29 during 2021. There were more than 40 such deaths in 2022, and as of June 2023, there are 23.

“This year, it has reached half the total of last year, and is trending toward more,” said Rizzi.

Alex Campbell is co-leader of the McHenry County Suicide Prevention Task Force, and a former executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“NAMI is one of the organizations that makes up the task force, the local affiliate of a national organization that supports and finds resources for those affected by mental illness.

“What we’re seeing for a demographic is a lot of suicides in the county have been middle-aged men,” he said. “Reasons are loss of spouses, relationships, loss of jobs, financial, a change in lifestyle … the outreach in these community events is to let people know where they can turn for help.”

The three-digit suicide prevention hotline, 988, has provided assistance on an anonymous basis.

Last year, participants in the walk event fundraiser totaled nearly $11,000 for use in “getting the word out.”

“Research has shown from those who have overcome thoughts and attempts of suicide, there is a lot of ambivalence about one’s desire to actually end their life,” said Rizzi. “Rather, they just want the situation they are in to be over, or different. The key is resiliency, using your strengths and learning skills in helping to overcome and adapt, along with allowing others to support you. You are not alone.”

Information on the “Never Walk Alone” event is available at the website address (http://NeverWalkAlone.5K.run), and registration opens at 8 a.m., the day of the event.