Walking to Prevent Suicide, the 10th Leading Cause of Death

Oriana Clayton, holding a memorial sign in front, walks Saturday in Wake Forest. Photo by Leanora Minai.They wore beads. Gold, for loss of a parent. Silver, a child. Red, for a spouse or partner.

They wore Burger King crowns for a would-be 22nd birthday.

They wrote notes like "the world just isn't the same" on paper butterflies, balloons and hearts, then tied them to tree branches.

“This is my son. He’s the impetus for everything,” said Carolyn Zahnow, touching a ‘Remembering Cameron 1987-2005’ button pinned to her T-shirt. 

Zahnow organized the Out of the Darkness Community Walk on Saturday in Wake Forest to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. About 250 people walked 3-miles through Historic Downtown Wake Forest, raising $7,389 to help prevent suicide, the 4th leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65, and the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

“Survivors get a sense of comfort because we all come together,” Zahnow said. “We’re all here to try and prevent additional suicide. If you don’t try, you’ll never prevent any.”

Colton’s Crew

Colton Ayscue would have turned 22 on Nov. 12, 2011, the day of the Out of the Darkness Community Walk. Photo by Leanora Minai. Dozens walked in memory of Colton Ayscue, who died May 5, 2011. Friends and family wore gold Burger King crowns and T-shirts that read “Colton’s Crew” on the back, “Forever In Our Hearts” on the front. Even his dog, Basil, joined the walk. Colton played baseball at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School. During the last game of his high school career, he covered third base, pitched and played catcher all in a single inning. He also hit a home run that day. A graduate of North Carolina State University Agricultural Institute, he worked as a golf course maintenance assistant with the Methodist University Professional Golf Management program in Fayetteville. He was taking classes toward a business degree. “Every time you saw him, he had a smile on his face,” said his father, Steve Ayscue. “That’s what everybody keeps putting on Facebook. They want to see it one more time.” But Colton missed his brother, who was in the military, and was having a tough time with the end of a relationship, family said. Last year, Colton was diagnosed with depression. He would have turned 22 on Saturday, the day of the walk. 

Remembering Cameron

Carolyn Zahnow positions a note for her son, Cameron, on a tree. "Miss you more than words," she wrote. Photo by Leanora Minai.Carolyn Zahnow is founder and facilitator of Wake Forest Survivors of Suicide, one of four support groups in the Triangle area. In addition to leading the support group, she is the author of “Save The Teens: Preventing Suicide, Depression and Addiction.” When she's not working as a communications manager for a non-profit in Raleigh, she works to prevent suicide and break down the stigma. “When survivors lose someone to suicide, we’re sometimes afraid to tell people,” she said. Her son, Cameron, was a graphic artist who wrote and took photos. Cameron's father died when he was 15. “That’s when his depression kicked in,” she said. Cameron eventually became addicted to meth. He took his life on Aug. 11, 2005, at age 18. “They get so deep and depressed like in a really dark hole,” Zahnow said. “You get that deep in it, and you don’t think about asking anybody for help. They have so many days like that.”

For resources, and to get involved, please contact the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. To make a donation to help the Wake Forest walkers reach their $10,000 goal by Dec. 31, visit their Out of the Darkness Community Walk website.

Slideshow: Moments from the Walk

Former Addict Brings Message of Hope, Recovery to Durham

Tonier Cain, 43, of Maryland, stands before a photo of herself as a child, as she speaks Oct. 14 in Durham about the importance of coordinated treatment for trauma, mental illness and substance abuse. Photo by Leanora Minai.For 19 years, Tonier Cain slept under a bridge, ate from trash cans and smoked crack cocaine. 

She was arrested 83 times, and convicted 66.

"I was a homeless crack addict," she told police, mental health counselors and others gathered in Durham last week.

Today, Cain, who is from Maryland, tours the country, sharing her story of trauma and recovery.

Her slide presentation is a window into two worlds: Cain in a jail mugshot in Annapolis; Cain standing with former President Bill Clinton in San Diego.

She provided the keynote during the 4th annual Durham Crisis Intervention Team recognition banquet, honoring specially trained police officers and volunteers who’ve gone beyond the call of duty to avert crisis. 

In the city and county of Durham, 251 officers and personnel are trained in crisis intervention. From January through September of this year, Durham police officers responded to more than 1,600 calls involving mental health issues. 

"Changing lives one person at a time," Sgt. Lori Ray of the Durham Police Department said during opening remarks. "It's not about one individual, one group, one agency. It's about a partnership."

During the banquet in the hall of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2740, several awards were presented, and special recognition was given to fire and medic unit personnel who saved the life of a suicidal individual attempting to jump from a bridge.

Some in the audience represented the very professions that Cain says let her down in Maryland. 

Until seven years ago. 

Cain's story begins at age 9. The oldest, Cain had eight brothers and sisters. Sometimes, her mother left them alone for two, three days at a time in filthy conditions. Her mother entertained men, who, she says, molested her. To numb the pain, she drank alcohol. 

At 11, she entered foster care, separated from her siblings. 

At 14, she swallowed a bottle of pills.

She survived, but at 19 years old, she found crack cocaine. "It was the answer to all of my problems," said Cain. She was introduced to the criminal justice system and mental health institutions, where counselors gave different diagnoses on different days.

She spent years living on the streets in Annapolis, trading sex for crack.

"Nobody asked me 'why,'" said Cain, now 43.

She told of times when the system let her down. She said her nose was broken during an arrest, and that a drug counselor sexually assaulted her.

But about seven years ago, her life changed when she walked through the door of a treatment program. "I'm so glad you’re here," Cain was told.

A therapist worked with Cain on her trauma: the beatings and rapes she could remember. The lack of love from her mother. The four children Cain gave birth to but gave up. "If I passed them in the streets, I wouldn't even know them," she said. "How do you heal from that?"

With treatment, she said, her belief system changed, her thought process changed, then her decisions changed.

Today, Cain has a daughter in private school. She owns a home. She’s a CEO. She’s an advocate and subject of the documentary, "Healing Neen." 

"What a difference it makes when we start to ask, ‘what happened to you’ instead of ‘what’s wrong with you?’" she said.

Treat the trauma, she told the audience.

"Where there’s breath, there's hope …" Cain said. "I am your evidence."