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Volunteering for Suicide Prevention: Creating the World We Need

21 Apr 2020 — 3 min read

By Christopher Epperson, AFSP National Board


Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk – To Be Virtual June 20

All of our volunteers play an important role in creating a culture that’s smart about mental health, and in our mission to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. Volunteering is more important than ever during this uncertain time. To learn more about how you can volunteer, click here to find your local AFSP chapter.

Apr. 21, 2020 - When asked why I volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, my first thoughts are about the faces of the people who have been impacted by suicide and how their stories motivate me to serve.

I think about my mentor, Sean. A relationship that started as a professional one became a friendship that shaped the future trajectory of my life. Generous, punctual and adventurous, Sean spent his days creating beauty and making people feel good about themselves. As my travel companion and teacher, I knew him well: well enough to know that he was struggling.  But at the time, I didn’t realize how deep and wide that struggle went. Sean died by suicide in 2007, and I wish to this day that I had known what to look for. I volunteer for Sean. 

I think about the woman I met at the first Out of the Darkness Walk I ever attended. While working the registration table as a new volunteer myself, I noticed a woman who looked tentative and uncertain. After welcoming her and asking her what brought her to the walk, she told me that her daughter had died by suicide the week before the event. I assured her that she was not alone, and gave my first AFSP hug. I volunteer for that hurting mother.

I think about my friend, Shelby. Shelby was a dedicated volunteer and a great teacher to me as a developing volunteer. Her commitment to suicide prevention was contagious and I found myself empowered for service because of the things I learned from her about prevention. We worked together like a hand in a glove, complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses while learning about ourselves along the way. Shelby would eventually move on to different work in suicide prevention. I continue feeling blessed because of the time and dedication for our common mission. I volunteer for Shelby.

I think about the boy in high school who struggled with dyslexia. A diver, a volunteer organizer and an overall good kid, he wrestled with low self-image and questions of identity that he mostly lived with in isolation. While giving off signs that he wasn’t okay, he was surrounded by well-intentioned people who didn’t know what to look for and missed the indicators. On one desperate day when his distress overpowered his resilience, he attempted to end his life. He survived that day and woke up to realize he wasn’t as alone as he believed, and that he had more options than he knew. He went on to become a volunteer for AFSP, where he has worked to create the world that he needed way back then. That boy is me, and I volunteer for the boy I was back then.   

These faces and the faces of hundreds of others who have been impacted by the work of AFSP are the reason I serve. The more stories I hear, the harder and deeper I am driven to give of my time and energy, my creativity and passion. For the lives that are saved. For the people who have found community from their isolation and purpose in their pain. Giving back is my gift to all of those people, for the many gifts they have given to me.

Connection makes a difference

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