"Kristina had just started seeing a psychiatrist before she died. Unfortunately, she didn't tell anyone that she felt worse as a result of her prescribed medication."
Community walks 5K for suicide prevention
By Amy K.D. Tobik | February 11, 2009
Kristina was an amazing person. She was an artist, a writer, an actress, a musician and a rock climber. So when the 19-year-old died by suicide nearly six years ago, it stunned everyone. Nobody knew that this popular, intelligent young woman who had a zest for life was suffering on the inside.
Kristina Yoas kept her pain a secret.
"Everyone thought she was perfect and looked up to her. I think she thought she couldn't let anyone know," said her mother, Nancy Yoas. "She must of felt 'there is something wrong with me, I'm not perfect.'"
Yoas said both she and her older daughter, Andi, suffer from mild depression. "So when [Kristina] told us she was depressed we were not thinking of it as a serious problem. We didn't realize how bad it was for her," Yoas said.
Kristina had just started seeing a psychiatrist before she died. Unfortunately, she didn't tell anyone that she felt worse as a result of her prescribed medication.
For years the Yoas family of Casselberry searched for answers as they pored over Kristina's journals and her online writings.
"The first thing your family wants to know is 'why,' and you do everything you can to answer that question," Yoas said. "As her mother, I felt like I should have seen this coming or helped her more.
"She had a mental illness that killed her – she couldn't help that. I can't blame her – or me. So many people don't understand, there is that stigma out there."
This Valentine's Day, Yoas is taking a stand.
She will be volunteering her time at the second annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk held in Orlando, Feb. 14. Participants will walk the 5K around Lake Baldwin in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
The money raised will help fund research, education and prevention initiatives as well as lend support for survivors.
The Central Florida Chapter was formed this year, one year after Vicki Long organized the first local AFSP walk in memory of her father who committed suicide.
Maria Riley, who's in charge of th Central Florida chapter public relations, said she was overjoyed with the success of the first event.
The 2008 walk attracted more than 400 participants and raised a total of $42,000.
This year they hope to increase their walkers to 500 and collect at least $50,000.
"It was amazing," Riley said. "We started to walk across the street and you could see all these people in different-colored shirts that said, 'Out of the Darkness.' There was a snake of people circling around Lake Baldwin."
Suicide has become a major health crisis with nearly one million attempts and more than 30,000 lives lost each year in the U.S.
According to the 2007 State of Florida Statistics, it is the eighth leading cause of death in the state of Florida and the third leading cause of death for youth ages 15 to 24.
Education and diagnosis are critical, especially since an estimated 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental health disorder, such as depression, at the time of death.
According to the AFSP, warning signs typically include observable signs of depression, such as anxiety, sleeplessness, hopelessness and withdrawal. Sometimes there is an increase in the use of alcohol and/or drugs, impulsiveness and the person may express unexpected rage or anger.
Other warning signs include expressing a strong wish to die and making a plan, such as giving away important possessions and obtaining firearms, poisons or medications.
The emotional crises that may precede suicide are often recognizable and treatable, according to the AFSP. Over 60 percent of all people who commit suicide suffer from major depression.
According to the AFSP Web site, "Serious depression can be manifested in obvious sadness, but often it is rather expressed as a loss of pleasure or withdrawal from activities that had been enjoyable."
"One can help prevent suicide through early recognition and treatment of depression and other psychiatric illnesses."
Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Approximately 85 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized.
Yoas said being part of a support group that comes together to make a difference gives her hope for the future.
"The more people can talk about it and more people are aware of the reality of it, I think it is better for everyone and the stigma will go away," she said. "The AFSP is trying to educate everyone that there is no shame in this. We need to be able to recognize when people are hurting and help them before it's too late."
"I got involved because I don't want anyone, parents, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, grandfathers … to suffer when they lose someone. I don't want anyone else to go through the pain. People need to understand these people have a mental illness. It needs to be treated with empathy."
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