Walk’s aim is to lead from darkness

Event benefits battle vs. suicide

On Oct. 10, 2015, the Thomas Family faced the first day of a world completely changed.

Jocelyn Thomas lost her battle with her mental illness, leaving behind her family and friends 10 days before her 19th birthday.

She had struggled with mental illness since as early as preschool, according to her mother, Joleen Thomas. Her first diagnosis was in the third grade and over the years, with several more diagnoses, it evolved into bipolar disorder with borderline personality traits.

Jocelyn had a hard time regulating her moods, making her behavior sometimes hard to understand, but she still tried her best. She was musically inclined, outspoken on politics and social views, and was an avid reader and writer. Her life was, unfortunately, cut short due to her illness and subsequent suicide.

Her final attempt wasn’t her first sadly.

“She had a previous attempt six months prior to her death, and she was in the ICU for a short time as a result of that attempt. Research shows that previous attempts are a huge red flag that someone may make subsequent attempts, which potentially end up being fatal. But suicidal ideation was something that was present for Jocelyn for years – she had suicidal thoughts, but did not necessarily have a plan or a compulsion to act on them,” Thomas said.

In the aftermath of her loss, Thomas has made it a goal to make the the community and those around her more aware of mental illness and the need to talk about it.

“When Jocelyn died, it was painfully obvious to us that there is a serious lack of education regarding suicide and mental health in our area. Nobody was talking about it. Nobody was being honest about the seriousness of this in our community. Nobody knew what to say to us, or how to talk about it so they’d say nothing or something wildly inaccurate,” Thomas said.

She has begun to call what she and others with her are doing TheJocelynThomasProject.

Thomas has been invited to speak in schools around the area. Her goal with these speaking events is to educate the community and the youth about what mental issues look like, what the signs of suicide might be, the myths about mental health and suicide, and, most importantly, to let people know they are not alone in their struggles.

“Talking about Jocelyn’s personal story has really resonated with people. Many can identify with her story; she was a real person with real struggles whose life ended in suicide as a result of her mental health issues. If even one person is impacted by or learns something from her story, or makes a change in how they respond to others, is inspired to get help, or ultimately chooses life, then her story continues,” Thomas said.

When asked about what those around people with mental illness can do, she said “Be there for them. Not just for people with a known mental illness, but for anyone, because many people do not have a formal diagnosis. We all have bad days and trials. Be the person that someone knows they can count on to contact and know that they will not be judged. And be kind. You have no idea what kinds of things are going on in a person’s life. And educate yourselves – know the signs of someone reaching out for help, be prepared to act on them, and be willing to be an advocate to increase awareness to others.”

Tomorrow, Thomas will be walking in the Out of the Darkness Walk in Jocelyn’s memory on Team Jocelyn Thomas for the second year.

“We do this walk in part because of the exposure that it gives to the community regarding suicide prevention, and to give a face and a name to those that have been lost to suicide, our daughter being one of them. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is the leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide. Their focus is research, education and advocacy, and to reach out to people with mental health issues and those impacted by suicide,” Thomas said.

The Out of the Darkness Walk will take place tomorrow at Roosevelt Park. Check-in or registrations will open at 12 p.m. and the walk starts at 1 p.m. until 3 p.m.

Online registration ends at 12 p.m. today, but anyone can join the walk at the check-in time.

AFSP has set a goal of reducing suicides by 20 percent by 2025. The Minot walk goal is to raise $20,000. Money raised goes to funding research for Suicide Preventoin, to create and distribute education programs, to advocate for public policy, and to support survivors of suicide loss. Donations will be accepted even after the walk until Dec. 31 at afsp.donordrive.com.

Alongside the walk, Thomas has been talking about how the Minot High soccer team is having a Blackout/Out of the Darkness theme at its Sept. 12 game.

“They sold t-shirts with $5 of the t-shirt price going to the partnerships program through North Central Human Services to support youth and families in Minot with mental health issues. The team will be presenting a check at half time,” Thomas said.

Mental health and suicide is a growing problem in not only North Dakota but the country. Events like the upcoming walk through AFSP and the t-shirts sale by the Minot High soccer team are intended to combat the challenge through awareness, sensitivity and support.