Candlelight ceremony remembers those lost to suicide, offers hope to those still fighting

Posted:
WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

"We need all the help we can get," said Leslie Ortiz.  She's trying to help her son who struggles with mental health problems.  A candlelight service gave her ideas of where she could go for that help.  "Because you cannot do it on your own. It is far too complicated of a problem and it's far beyond what you can do yourself.  You have to have the help of the whole community."

Relief and hope that things will get better.  Something Kansans living in Sedgwick County need.  The suicide rate here continues to grow, reaching the highest rate recorded since the county started tracking suicides in 2001.  Youth suicides lead the way, growing by 50% year to year in the most recent statistics. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Wichita Police Department partnered together Sunday to host the 15th annual Candlelight Ceremony to kick off Mental Illness Awareness Week.

"Mental illness is something that does not discriminate and we see it everywhere in our daily lives," said James Hook, a mental health liaison for the police department.

The event offered information and help to anyone who may need it that is dealing with, or has dealt with mental illness like Lynn Kohr. She is associated with the alliance and dealt with mental illness in her past.

"It's very hard," she said. "I spent years wishing I was dead."

According to Kohr, her issues started in college as she tried to deal with stress. She said she ended up going through several different treatments like shock therapy and spent countless days in hospitals.

"I did try to kill myself a couple of times, during that time," she said.

Events like these are what Kohr said, brings the situations to light for people that need help, since, according to her, not many of them seek help.

"It makes them realize that they're not alone and that there are other people out there that can identify with them," Kohr said.

Kevin Briggs brought his own experiences with suicide to the ceremony, using them to help others learn how to talk about suicide.  A former California Highway Patrol officer, he spent years patrolling the Golden Gate Bridge.

"Which, if folks don't know it, and I didn't know prior to me working on it, is the number one spot in the United States for loss of life to suicide," Briggs said. 

He recounted several of the hundreds of suicides and attempted suicides he responded to over the years. 

"And I want to share with them my experiences, through depression and through one of my sons who was suicidal, all these things," he said.  "So we can provide some hope to folks and see, How can we communicate?  What do we say?  What do we not say?"

Briggs says during those years, he learned how to become an active listener, not offering his own opinion but letting those in pain speak their pain, while making it obvious he's listening with encouraging responses like, "That's tough!" and "Really?!"

At the end of the ceremony, everyone joined in a candlelight vigil to remember people that have been lost to mental illness.

"It puts it out in the open, where people can see it," Kohr said. "Because I think it's hidden a lot."

Kohr is one who has put her situation in the open, speaking at events like the candlelight ceremony and others. However, she said she still struggles with it to this day.

"Mostly auditory hallucinations, voices and delusions, not believing things that are true and things like that," she said.

She said she has found hope to help her through her continuing troubles. So, she said she wants to push others that are going through what she is and has gone through to do the same.

"Find help because it does work," Kohr said.

Ortiz agreed,saying events like this are key to helping so many people.

"It makes you feel as if you're not alone and there are people you can turn to that actually understand you," she said.

Check out these photos from across KAKEland snapped by our viewers, staff and local officials. Do you have pictures to share with us? Email them to news@kake.com.

MORE SLIDESHOWS HERE