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Suicide: Breaking the Silence, Part 2 - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Suicide: Breaking the Silence, Part 2

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NEWPORT, Vt. -

"You would say the word suicide and they would act like it's something contagious," said Amanda Chaput, who lost her brother to suicide.

These women call themselves a family born from tragedy. Each lost a loved one to suicide.

"Gage was 21-years-old," said Mary Butler, who lost her stepson. "The year before he died he had been up here visiting us... We thought he was doing well."

After Gage killed himself, his stepmom discovered there weren't many resources in the Northeast Kingdom to help her deal with his death. Searching for an outlet, Butler channeled her grief into action, organizing Newport's first awareness walk through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. More than 254 registered walkers showed up.

"We felt like we had a lot of people who were in this club that no one wants to belong to," Butler said.

The walk is how she met the Chaputs and Barretts. Together these three families formed an informal support group, sharing their stories in an effort to heal.

"To be honest, without these people I don't think there would be any healing," Amanda Chaput said.

"It's hard work to keep your head above water," Betty Barrett said.

Barrett's son, Michael, took his life nine years ago. He was 34.

"I was angry at God for a long time because he didn't give me enough time with my son," Barrett said.

"I wish I could do more." said Chris Barrett, Michael's stepfather.

Betty turned suicidal herself and her husband, Chris, didn't know how to help.

"There was a battle in my head going on because I didn't understand and I was trying. I'd fight to understand, fight to be supportive," he said.

The Barretts are not alone. Vermont's suicide rate surpasses the national average by about 36 percent. Since 2001, more than 1,000 Vermonters have taken their own lives. One in five Vermont middle and high school kids say they've contemplated suicide. Now, these survivors-turned-advocates are sticking together to strip the stigma from suicide.

"Mental illness or depression is not different than a physical illness. Even though the world often says there's a stigma, there's nothing to be embarrassed about," Butler said.

The Vermont Department of Mental Health is also addressing the issue, calling suicide one of the state's most pressing public health concerns.

"It's the second leading cause of youths' deaths. That's really startling when you think of it," said Charlie Biss of the Vermont Department of Mental Health.

The state partnered with a Brattleboro group called the Center for Health and Learning. Through a federal grant they developed the UMatter campaign, an interactive suicide prevention platform geared toward suicidal youth and those trying to help. The state says outreach tools like these combined with the advocacy work of survivors will make a difference.

"That is what's going to change our state view and the public awareness of suicide. That's what's going to help," Biss said.

For these Newport parents, focusing on Saturday's "Out of the Darkness Walk" helps them cope.

"With Michael's anniversary being September 30, usually in August I start subconsciously thinking about it," Betty Barrett said. "So, I was down last year. This year I'm highly pumped. I am just so excited about the walk."

"Everybody has a good sense of humor and it helps keep things light and if somebody's down, people are getting hugs," Chris Barrett said.

Loved ones taking small steps, hoping to make major strides toward suicide prevention.

Newport's second annual "Out of the Darkness Walk" is Sept. 7 at 10:30 a.m. starting at Gardner Park. The group hopes to raise $10,000 for suicide prevention.

If you would like more information about the walk or suicide prevention tools:

UMatter -- www.umatterucangethelp.com

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention -- www.afsp.org

Out of the Darkness Walks - Vermont -- www.afsp.org/local-chapters/find-your-local-chapter/afsp-vermont/out-of-the-darkness-community-walks

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Suicide: Breaking the Silence, Part 1

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