Social work efforts aim to prevent suicide deaths

Apr 3, 2014

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

Social worker Chris Gilchrist is passionate about raising awareness and lifting the stigma surrounding depression and suicide.

She organizes the Out of the Darkness Community Walk in her hometown in Hampton Roads, Va.

The annual event, which offers awareness, support, remembrance and education for those affected by depression and suicide, has grown to be one of the largest in the U.S., she said. There are about 300 walks across the nation each year.

While suicide can be a confusing and heart-wrenching topic for those affected by it, there are facts that need greater understanding, said Gilchrist, who is a member of the American Association of Suicidology and a therapist working with individuals and families with bereavement or other life issues.

“Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death,” she said. “The primary cause is untreated depression. Depression is a disease that is treatable.”

Gilchrist has been organizing the community walk, now in its ninth year, with the support of the Hampton Roads Survivor Support Group, in partnership with the national American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“Every walk has a sad part, but also an uplifting part with hope that we can make a difference,” she said. “If the No. 1 cause of suicide is depression, the walks make a difference by educating people about the symptoms of depression.”

A prioritized research agenda

While Gilchrist is an example of the many social workers who work to raise awareness and understanding of depression and suicide in their communities, social workers in federal agencies are part of a network striving to reduce the nation’s suicide rate on a macro level.

Suicide may appear to be a private problem, but it is a public concern that has inspired a newly designed approach initiated by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

Started in 2010 as a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership, the Action Alliance works to explore opportunities for and barriers to progress in reducing suicide rates.

More can be found at

From the April 2014 NASW News. NASW members can read the full story after logging in.

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