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Area man walks for suicide prevention
Area man represents family survivors in walk for suicide prevention and awareness

 Warren Burns is in New York for a suicide prevention walk with friend Pam Updike (left) and sister Heather Birch.
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RELATED: Congregations offering more support for suicide survivors, those who are depressed

Date published: 6/7/2008


Strangers tell Warren Burns, "I never told anyone this, but my husband killed himself" or "I once attempted suicide."

And the Spotsylvania County man who once couldn't understand the point of therapy now finds strength in sharing stories.

He hopes to find even more power this weekend, as he joins more than 1,000 people in New York City like him--people who have been touched by suicide.

At the annual Out of Darkness Walk, Burns was chosen to light a luminary during opening ceremony representing all spouses of people who've killed themselves. He did so to honor his wife, Beth, who overdosed on pills Jan. 30.

Afterward, Burns, his sister and some friends walked 20 miles through the city to raise awareness of suicide. But he also expected to find support from others who'd been affected by suicide.

Before the walk, he'd already raised more than $5,000 for the cause he feels so passionately about.

"To me, it's not even about the money," Burns said last week. "It's giving me a chance to heal."

That process has been slow, he said, since Beth took her own life.

She was 38, and "amazing, just the best mom in the world," Warren said.

He'd known Beth since they were in their early teens. In seventh grade, his parents let him write on the walls just before they put new paneling up. Burns wrote the name of his new friend and secret crush, Beth McGowan.

They first became best friends and by the middle of high school, they were dating. They graduated from Courtland High School in 1988 and married right after college.

"It's always been the two of us, we've always been together," Burns said.

In all that time, he didn't see any obvious signs that Beth was depressed or suicidal.

Days before she killed herself, Beth and her 7-year-old daughters celebrated the birthday they all share--January 26--and Burns said he "would bet my life suicide was not even on the radar."

But Beth became severely depressed. She overdosed on pills.

After she died, Burns called a grief specialist for advice on what to tell his daughters.

The truth, the specialist said. It's better for them to know now than to find out as teens.

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Experts say the best way to prevent suicide is to recognize the signs:

Making comments about suicide or being hopeless, helpless or worthless

Worsening depression (deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping or eating)

A sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing happy

Taking risks that could lead to death

Losing interest in things or drop in performance

Seeking access to guns or pills

Increasing drug or alcohol use

Withdrawing from family and friends

For help, call the national suicide prevention hot line at 800/273-8255.

Virginia ranks 33rd in number of suicides. With 866 suicides in 2005, the state had a suicide rate of 11 percent.

In the United States, somebody attempts suicide about once a minute.

More than 32,000 Americans die by suicide each year.

Suicide is the 11th-leading cause of death. It is the fourth-leading cause of death among adults ages 16 to 65.

Every day, about 80 Americans take their own lives, and 1,500 more attempt to.

Guns are used in more suicides than homicides. They account for 52 percent of all suicides.

Women attempt suicide twice as often as men. Men kill themselves almost four times as often as women.

--American Foundation for Suicide Prevention