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'Suicide is not a personal character flaw. It is a global health crisis' | Mental health advocate, suicide survivor plans Saturday walk

Fonda Bryant nearly died 27 years ago. On Saturday, she will walk 27 miles and invites you to join her.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States with nearly 46,000 people dying of suicide in 2020, according to the Center for Disease Control statistics. There were about 1.20 million attempted suicides that same year, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

Fonda Bryant is a Charlotte-area mental health advocate and is using her story and struggles with depression to save lives.  

I was struggling really bad. Depression had reared its ugly head. And I had a plan. I was going to take my own life," Bryant said. " And the thing is, we don't want to die. We just want that pain to go away at that moment."

Credit: Fonda Bryant
Fonda Bryant

On Valentine's Day 27 years ago, Bryant almost died by suicide. 

"I was struggling with clinical depression and didn't even know I had depression because culture plays into mental health, especially in the black culture," she said. "It's 'pray about it. Don't claim it. Give it to God.'"

On average, 130 people die of suicide every day, according to AFSP.

Suicide is not a personal character flaw," Bryant explained. "It is a global health crisis and people need to know that."

Bryant credits her aunt, who took action and had her hospitalized, for saving her life. 

She calls 1995 the year of her rebirth. She has now dedicated her life to stomping out the stigma associated with depression.

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I realized that stigma is very thick when it comes to mental health," she said. "I also realized I had no reason to be ashamed. I was struggling with a mental health condition."

Bryant finds an outlet in working out, helping others and focusing on her loved ones, especially her son. She says self-care and keeping her needs at the forefront are also important ways to keep her mental health in check. 

Saturday morning, Bryant is walking 27 miles to celebrate her life.

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"I'm walking from one city to another. From Charlotte to my hometown in Gastonia," Bryant said. 

She is also walking in honor of those who struggle with mental health illnesses, and those who lost their lives to suicide. She has custom shirts with the names of several peopled who have died by suicide, including former Miss USA and Charlotte lawyer Cheslie Kryst, who was remembered in a vigil Thursday.

Credit: Fonda Bryant
Help Prevent Suicide Walk

Bryant admits she is not out of the woods. She hopes her walks, public service announcements and billboards keep at least one person from taking their own life.

"If I take ownership of my mental health, and I put in the work every day and I go into my mental health toolbox and get the tools that I need, I can survive," she said.

Bryant invites others to walk with her Saturday. The walk kicks off Saturday at 8 a.m. outside of the Fitness Connection, located at 8709 JW Clay Blvd in Charlotte.

If you or a loved one are facing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help readily available. You can call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or chat with them online. There are also resources in North Carolina available here and in South Carolina available here.

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