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Think Pink: University of Notre Dame/NAMI Project Hope Walk

  • October 04, 2012

The Notre Dame/NAMI Project Hope Walk, artfully orchestrated by ND Senior Amanda Bruening, took place on a crystal clear fall day starting at the “Rock” (Knute Rockne Memorial Gym). About 200 people donned white t-shirts and listened to Amanda tell the story about her younger sister who died by suicide at age 12. Amanda showed the unwavering conviction of a Survivor determined to change the way the world’s view of mental illness. I’ve been to a lot of these events in the past two years. Amanda’s heartfelt eloquence on that bright fall day stands out in my mind as one of the best I’ve heard.

Registration prior to the walk

Julie Hersh, Amanda Bruening, Tom Seeberg

Julie Hersh, Amanda Bruening, Tom Seeberg

We then headed across campus and for a walk around St. Mary’s lake. I wish I’d thought to take a photo, but I was too busy talking with an impressive young ND freshman (Juan Jose Daboub) and other ND students. The leaves are just beginning to turn – flecks of yellow and red. The walk culminated at The Grotto, built in memory of St. Bernadette’s grotto at Lourdes. Many a ND student, including me, has lit a candle with a prayer here. Beautiful spot, although I don’t think those candles I lit helped my freshman Chemistry exam!

Father Pete

Father Pete kicked off the ceremony with a prayer, followed by Tom Seeberg. Tom’s daughter Lizzy, a St. Mary’s student, died by suicide in the fall of 2010. Tom and his family wore pink in honor of Lizzy’s favorite color. He spoke lovingly about his daughter, and the incredible support his family had received from family, friends and the St. Mary’s community. He recalled how a few days earlier he’d grabbed a cup of coffee in a pink mug, and went to Lizzy’s grave for inspiration about what to say. The words in Latin on her tombstone became the catalyst for his speech. Spes Unica Tom translated: only hope.

Tom Seeberg

I spoke next, faced with the difficult task of honoring those who have died by suicide, yet still reminding those living about what might be done to maintain mental health. The speech stressed mental health maintenance as a critical task for all of us, not just those labeled as mentally ill. When this happens, people get help earlier, long before suicide becomes an option. If there’s interest I can post the speech, it just needs proofing.

As many times as I’ve talked about what happened to me, this time my words caught when I mentioned the fact my children were only 5 and 7 when I attempted suicide. The pain of those listening – so many who had buttons or t-shirts showing the faces of their lost loved ones, hit me full force. The sunlight on the lake, framed by leaves touched with autumn color, helped me regain my balance.

 

me, a little teary and fighting a cold

I talked about the importance of sleep, nutrition and exercise and handed out a flier with the top ten things I think I could have done to prevent my depressive episode during my stay at ND. People chuckled about my comment about nearly falling into another depression when the Texas Rangers lost the World Series – and that was before the phenomenal collapse in last night’s game with the A’s. Maybe I should be handing my top ten list to Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler? Ah well, at least the Fighting Irish are on a winning streak.

Overall, the event was positive, uplifting, the Project Hope Walk living up to its name. With young people like Amanda taking such an active role, I have no doubt that one day people will be as open about mental illness as they are today about breast cancer. Strangely enough, the latest numbers from the CDC show the US mortality rate for suicide is 36,909 and for breast cancer as 41,078.

Maybe Lizzy Seeberg is right; the world needs more pink. If we use the Susan G Komen for the Cure as a model for prevention and awareness, my guess is we could drop the suicide rate by at least 20%. 7,000 lives or more. Do you think we can make it happen?

I am reminded of Lizzy’s message: only hope. If we keep speaking out, change can happen. Lives can be saved. Congrats to Amanda on her team, as well as Tom Seeberg and his family for opening minds and hearts about the importance of mental health.

 

More photos from this event can be found on the Stuck By Living Facebook Page.

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About Struck By Living

In Struck by Living, Julie Hersh picks apart the irony of her life with humor and brutal honesty. Despite a loving husband, healthy children, financial security, Julie attempted suicide three times. With the help of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), Julie broke the deadly course of her disorder. Now well, Julie promotes the importance of mental health with collaborations with other artists and organizations.

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