Walking with his black backpack and sunglasses on a hot Saturday at White River State Park, Cedric Wilson had three bead necklaces draped around his neck. One was blue, for supporting suicide prevention. One was purple, denoting the loss of a friend or relative. The other was white, a note to everyone that Wilson lost a child to suicide.
Wilson’s son, Spenser, was 23 years old when he took his life on April 28. He walked with his son’s best friend, Christian Geiger, at the Out of the Darkness Indianapolis Walk on Sept. 14.
“I’m not the same person,” Wilson, 58, said as he walked alongside hundreds of others who have been impacted by suicide. “We’re not the same family that we were April 27.”
Mental health wasn’t on Wilson’s radar before it ripped away his only son. But looking back, he said, he doesn’t remember any warning signs. Spenser seemed happy, was close to his family and friends. He even helped other people through their mental health issues.
In hindsight, maybe those were the warning signs. The day before Spenser took his life, Wilson said they were at a family birthday party, and Spenser was making plans to go to Orlando with his friends for a wedding.
“Spenser put everyone before himself,” said Geiger, 25, “and he really made sure that everyone else was OK and kind of brushed off his own problems. He kept most of it to himself.”
This is part of Wilson’s life now. He said he feels a responsibility to advocate for those who are going through what his son experienced. Wilson said he also wants to help change the way people think of and talk about mental health.
“Don’t judge and say things because I think that’s what holds people back from seeking help. They’re being judged for something unfairly when it’s not their fault,” he said. “… It’s not what you think it is. It’s not as bad — it’s not bad at all.”
The Out of the Darkness Walk brought together scores of people similar to Wilson, some of whom surely had experienced the same thing. For plenty of others, it was a chance to show their support for people who have lost loved ones to suicide, even if they don’t have anyone in their life who’s experiencing a mental health crisis — at least not that they know of.
The stigma Wilson mentioned and that the walk attempted to weaken can be especially strong for Black Americans, who face more pressure to find inner strength and often view religion as a cure to mental health issues.
Fred Gorin, 72, was at his first walk after he lost a family member to suicide six or seven years ago. He said it was important for his family to accept “God’s will” and learn how to move forward.
“No one wants to lose a family member at all, ever,” Gorin said, “but it makes you stronger because it pulls you together at the same time, too.”
Gorin said mental health is something he’s more aware of now and can see how it impacts “everyone” on some level. He said it’s important for family members to “stay vigilant,” even if they don’t suspect anything is wrong.
Shaunna Norris is a mental health therapist with Community Health Network and said she lost an uncle to suicide when she was 4 or 5 years old. Norris, 41, works with children and adults and said African Americans tend to not seek mental health services when they should.
Norris said people should think of mental health checkups the same way they think about a yearly physical: It’s something you do regularly, and you should take it seriously.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Norris said as she walked. “It doesn’t mean that you’re crazy if you’re going to counseling services. It actually means that you’re quite healthy.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
Cedric Wilson (left) and Christian Geiger (right) walked together at the Out of the Darkness Indianapolis Walk on Sept. 14 at White River State Park. Wilson’s son, Spenser, died by suicide in April, and Geiger was his best friend. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)