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More than 20 million Americans suffer from depression, making it more common than AIDS, cancer and coronary heart disease combined.

In fact, a staggering 30,000 people die every year to suicide making it the 11th leading cause of death in the United States”ninety percent of those suicides are caused by mental illness.

For Forest Park resident, Jody Davidson, however, the reality of depression and suicide isn’t just in the numbers, for her it has hit very close to home as she, herself, has battled depression most of her life and recently lost her brother to suicide.

The illness is treatable, however, and once depression is detected evidence shows that 80 to 90 percent of those treated have a positive response; the difficulty, it seems, lies in raising awareness and detecting it before it becomes fatal.

In 2002 the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention held an inaugural Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk in Washington D.C. to do just that: to raise awareness and prevention about suicide and depression. The walk raised over $1.2 million and featured over 2,400 walkers and volunteers.

On July 16 and 17 of this year, the walk will be revisited, not under the shadows of the nation’s great monuments but on the shore of Chicago’s skyline.

This fundraiser walk is unique in that the walkers start on a twenty-mile trek not during daylight, in the morning, but at dusk, at 6:00 p.m. and continue throughout the night, ending their voyage at dawn.

A personal crusade

For Davidson, the walk carries a double significance. It symbolizes her own battle with depression and it stands as a memorial to her brother, whom she lost earlier in the year to suicide.

As far back as 10-years-old Davidson can recall not feeling like herself. At sixteen she told a doctor that she never felt happy and his response was that she wasn’t going to get drugs.

“At that point I didn’t care about drugs, I just wanted to feel better. I could stand the heavy and lethargic feeling that surrounded and engulfed me,” Davidson said.

Despite exhausting several options, Davidson’s depression became more severe as she grew older. Then she started having suicidal thoughts and visions.

“It’s not like I wanted to die, I just wanted the pain to be over,” Davidson reminisced.

One day after work Davidson reached the turning point with her disease.

“I came home and knew that I couldn’t go to work the next day and I wanted to go to the hospital,” she said. “I just started crying uncontrollably, called the Elgin Crisis Center and they helped me.”

Once in the hospital Davidson checked into a three-week program. For the first time in her life she was given anti-depressant medication.

“I could feel the medication kick in and for the first time in a long time I saw the sun shine,” she said. “It was as if the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders.”

Davidson combined the medication with talk therapy and the two made all the difference to her.

“It was amazing, I could actually start identifying and expressing my feelings, it was fantastic,” she said. “I used the word ‘bittersweet’ to describe how I was feeling and I had never used that word before.”

The stigma”and need”of treatment

Once released from her program Davidson found her relationships with co-workers to be different.

“Some of them treated me like I had the plague,” she recalled. “I don’t think most people realize how common it is, that is why I am open about it, so that people can ask questions and learn about the disease.”

The day after Mothers’ Day, Davidson received a call from her father telling her that her brother, Paul, had committed suicide the day before.

Her brother had fallen on bad times and did not see a way out.

“It’s hard for people to imagine how it can get to that point, but having been there myself I know the mindset and you just feel like your suffocating and that there’s no hope,” she said.

Paul, a Navy veteran, was never diagnosed with depression but his family always suspected that he was suffering from the illness.

“It’s a shame that he never got treated because it is an illness that can easily be helped and overcome,” said an emotional Davidson.

A light at the end of the tunnel

Not waiting long after the news of her brother’s death, Davidson signed up for the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk.

“I had heard about it before through ads and commercials but the news about my brother motivated me to join in,” she said.

Davidson explains that the walk symbolizes her own venture ‘out of the darkness’. Her brother’s death reminded her that not everyone makes it out.

“I wanted to do something to honor his life, and I want to speak out and tell people about the importance of seeking help and conquering this awful disease,” she said.

Once Davidson signed up for the walk she was assigned a coach that she could contact whenever she needed.

“The coach is there to answer questions and to help with your training,” said Davidson. “She told me about other walkers who have training sessions so that I could get together with other suicide survivors and train. Its very therapeutic to be around others who have experienced what you’re going through and share thoughts and feelings.”

The walk will begin and end at Soldier Field.

Rest stops will be spaced every three miles along the route to help walkers replenish fluids and to add support. At the end of the walk, a memorial will be held at Soldier Field for all those loved ones lost to suicide.

“I can imagine it will be a very emotional moment for everyone at the memorial. I invited my mother to be there and it will help both of us grieve knowing that others are there to support us,” Davidson said.

Each walker has to raise over $1,000 for the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention in order to participate in the walk.

Although she got a late start on the fundraising Davidson has already raised over $700 and hopes to reach her goal in the next week.

“Me doing this walk has been a great way for people to support our family’s loss because instead of sending flowers friends have been donating money to the walk,” she said.

“My reason for doing this walk is because I thank the Lord that when I was in trouble people reached out to me, and now I want to do everything in my power to reach out and help others the same way,” Davidson concluded.