Alive & Running 5K Walk/Run

There are many charitable runs held in Los Angeles, but the “Alive & Running” 5K walk/run for Suicide Prevention held last weekend openly challenges the stigmas attached to those struggling with mental health issues.

Without adequate mental health care, people feel they have no place to turn which can cause them to end their own lives.

Those participating in this year’s event came from all walks of life. They had a common purpose, however — to honor their loved ones by raising awareness and funds for the Didi Hirsh Suicide Prevention Center. This year broke all records, raising $375,000 for the center that provides training, research and services for people affected by suicide.

Pacoima Family Shares Their Story

Among those participating in the run/walk was the Alvarez family from Pacoima, who shared their story in the hope of helping others.  

Blanca Alvarez joined the US Air Force because of her brother, US Army Staff Sgt. Juan “Meño” Alvarez, Jr.

“I always looked up to my brother,” Blanca said. “No matter whether we were in a fight, or not. I always wanted to be like him. He was our rock. The first born, and our leader. He is part of the reason why I serve our country today.”

An artist and amateur musician, Meño “served his country with the same pride, honor, integrity and love he had for his family,” Blanca said. But after a tour of duty in Iraq, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and ended his life in September 2011.

Family members struggled to make sense of their loss for many years before learning about the annual “Alive & Running” 5K.

Last year, Blanca created Team Alvatrez, (sic) named for the band that Meño had with one of his brothers and their father, to raise awareness about suicide in the military community. This year, about 30 members of the family participated in the race, something Blanca hopes will become an annual tradition.

“My brother succumbed to PTSD and took his own life,” Blanca wrote on the Why We Run section of the “Alive & Running” website. “His death left a black hole in our universe. We miss him every day. For our veterans, and military families: We love you. You are not alone in your struggles.”

 The Didi Hirsch’s Suicide Prevention Center — which  opened in 1958 in Los Angeles — is the first and only one of its kind in the nation. Over the years, it has raised nearly $3 million. The proceeds help keep the multilingual 24/7 crisis hotline running, and also cover the costs of training, education and support groups for people who have attempted suicide or suffered a loss.

The center sends its staffers to the scene of a suicide, helps to educate and train students and first responders, and funds support groups for people who have attempted suicide or are grieving a loss.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is (800) 273-8255.

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The record-breaking  “Alive and Running” event, which wrapped up Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month, took place on Sunday, Sept. 24 and drew over 2,000 participants. In memory of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, two popular musicians who recently died by suicide, The Village recording studios’ CEO, Jeff Greenberg, created a team to focus attention on suicide in the music industry. Didi Hirsch’s Board Chair Chris Harrer presented Greenberg and his team with the Inspiration Award.     “Artists by nature are very sensitive and creative…Like anybody experiencing difficulties or trauma, sometimes there are no warning signs,”  What Didi Hirsch is doing beautifully well is letting people know how to spot signs when a friend or colleague or someone they love is in trouble and getting them help before it is too late.” 

“We’re talking about this more. It’s an issue that touches all of us, no matter the age, the race, economics,” said Christine Devine, who lost a friend to suicide. “I’m not an expert in mental health …but I know where to send (people in crisis). I send them to Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services and to the Suicide Prevention Hotline.” 

Didi Hirsch Board member and event co-chair Pamela Kluft, who lost her sister, Beth, to suicide, presented Didi Hirsch Board member Sara Rutenberg and her brother, Andrew Berman, with the Hope Award. Rutenberg and Berman created Team L’Chaim in memory of their sister, Julie, who died by suicide 41 years ago and shared their loss for the first time on the Alive & Running website. “By speaking honestly and openly about their sister’s suicide, they have given other survivors hope that healing is always possible—even after decades of silence,” Kluft said. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is (800) 273-8255.

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