Jordan Cobb walked along the riverside path chatting with her husband, friends and family. White signs posted along the path offered facts and messages about suicide.
“There is hope,” read one of the signs posted along the walkway near Mike Lansing Field.
Cobb and some of the group wore matching shirts with the words “I walk for Josh,” above a picture of a gnome.
This Saturday was Cobb’s third time participating in the annual Natrona County Suicide Prevention Task Force’s Breaking the Silence Walk. More than 300 people braved the chilly, wet day.
Cobb saw other people strolling the path, some talking and enjoying the afternoon. She also saw tears.
“But this year I’m smiling,” she said. “And it’s a good feeling to be around so many people, I guess, with the same idea.”
Cobb didn’t know the stories behind most of the faces she passed. Still, there was a sense of connection and support among them.
The walk helps bring the topic of suicide out into the open while connecting people, chair of the task force Felicia Cummings said. That openness — being able to talk about and reach out for help with mental illness and suicidal feelings — is crucial to preventing suicide, she said.
Wyoming leads the nation in suicide deaths per capita in the latest statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Cummings said. It’s also the sixth leading cause of death in the state.
Still, the stigma prevents people from receiving help, Cummings said.
“It’s everybody’s business, and we’re trying to break the stigma,” Cummings said. “We want it to be talked about in order to save lives.”
Cobb’s brother, Josh, liked to hike and he used to say there were gnomes in the forest. So his family and friends wear the gnome shirts in his memory for the walk each year. Under the gnome is his birth and death date. Josh was 29 when he killed himself six years ago.
Cobb has found comfort in the Breaking the Silence walks, especially during her first two years, she said.
“The whole idea that these people all understand, in some sort or manner, and that we’re all here walking for a reason, and the energy, the connection,” she said. “But sometimes, when you go through suicide or someone passing, you almost feel alone, even if there’s a million people around you.”
A white sign along the path told participants that more than 41,100 Americans take their lives each year. Others stated it’s the 10th leading cause of death, and that the rates are consistently higher in the Western U.S.
The signs along the walk also spoke of perceptions about suicide.
“One of the greatest challenges to suicide prevention is overcoming the stigma associated with suicide,” one sign said.
“Break the silence,” read another. “Mental illness is not a weakness, it’s a disease. It’s OK to get help.”
Danielle Reed, another walker on Saturday, was joined her husband, mother and friends.
In the past year, two family members died by suicide within a month of each other, she said. One was her uncle, and the other her brother-in-law with whom she and her husband were close.
“To be able to come to something like this and see that you can move forward has helped our family a lot,” she said. “And you don’t know anybody’s story, but you know everybody’s here for one thing. And you don’t need to know everybody’s story. I don’t know where you can do an event and have something so heartfelt in common.”
Reed had never participated in the Breaking the Silence walk before. It gave her and her family a chance to acknowledge their loss but also to enjoy an afternoon together.
“Something like this happens and you feel like you just want to seclude yourself,” Reed said. “When you have things like this, you don’t. You find out that she’s going, and they’re going, so why don’t we all meet? It’s the true meaning of support.”
Breaking stigma and prevention
Cobb is willing to share her experiences to help others affected by suicide and mental illness. Besides the walk every year, she and her husband make a point to be open about suicide or any struggle people are experiencing, she said.
“We try to be safety for people,” Cobb said. “I think we’re definitely people that people come to talk to.”
Cobb’s cousin, Tanya O’Dea, traveled from Sheridan to join Saturday’s walk. The most important part for her was educating her children about suicide prevention, she said. Her mother died by suicide about three years ago. She recently told her 8-year-old son, explaining that his grandmother was sick. She’ll tell him more as he grows older, she said.
Her 14-year-old son has known other students who’ve attempted suicide. They’ve discussed social media and bullying dangers in hope that he can be a friend to someone in need, she said.
“As a daughter losing my mother, my grief never ends. She left us with a lot of broken pieces to pick up,” O’Dea said. “I hope others know there is help and that their story isn’t over yet.”