Out of the silence

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“Mrs. Nolen, I’m leading a team at the AFSP walk. They need photographers to document the event. There will be Pelham Park Middle School students there,” Liz Cochran’s text said. “Will you come and take pictures?”

Always happy to hear from Liz Cochran, I promised to attend. Discovering that AFSP stood for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, I recalled a Pelham High School leadership group participating a few years ago.

Arriving at Veteran’s Park, my husband and I found Cochran registering walkers. We listened to a talented musician and marveled at the many teams present wearing shirts in memory of those lost to suicide. Soon we found Pelham Park Middle School Counselors Melba Holloway and Laura Cochran—who is also Liz Cochran’s mom. A Pelham Park Middle School student also arrived with her mom.

With registration complete, Liz Cochran joined us. “What led you to AFSP?” I asked.

“Nursing students have so many choices for community service,” said Cochran, who will finish her Masters of Science in nursing this May, “so I asked our wonderful Department Chair Dr. McGuinness. Dr. McGuinness and her husband both recommended AFSP.”

As if on cue, Dr. Teena McGuinness, a smiling, energetic woman, emerged from the crowd. After introductions, she leaned toward me conspiratorially and said, “We’re trying to convince Liz to earn her PhD.”

After a few photos, we approached the starting line for the opening ceremonies.

“By being here, you’re sending a message that mental health is as real as physical health and that reaching out for help is a strong thing to do,” said AFSP Alabama Area Director Jennifer Fields Hall.

Sharing that AFSP invested over six million dollars in research, Hall detailed the foundation’s efforts that bring awareness to mental health issues and suicide prevention education to students, teachers and parents.

While this AFSP event remembers those lost to suicide, its primary focus is on celebrating courage, healing and hope.

Bringing suicide risk out of the darkness—and out of the silence—saves lives. Why walk? Because moving forward—and supporting one another—saves us all.