Although she is still getting used to calling herself a runner, Laramie resident Lori Tanner is gearing up to run her fifth marathon — the New York City Marathon in November.
More than just a personal goal, Tanner is running with a team from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, raising money in honor of her son Gavin, who died by suicide five years ago next week.
“I am not athletic,” Tanner told the Laramie Boomerang. “I am not a runner at all — well I guess I am now — but I just felt like I want to do something big. I wanted to do something big for him.”
Just two weeks before her 17-year-old son’s passing, Tanner reluctantly agreed to his request to run a 5k together. While he ran successfully and placed first place in his division, she walked the majority of the race.
“That was one of the last events we did together,” she said. “I promised him that day that the next year I would run that 5k with him, and then he wasn’t there to run it. I decided, ‘If I can’t run it with you, I will run it for you.’”
In the five years since, Tanner has run 5ks, 10ks, half marathons and a total of five marathons, three with the AFSP. She said running became not only a way to honor and remember her son, but a way to grieve and connect with other grieving family members who have lost loved ones to suicide.
“I feel like he left me this really powerful gift that I can use to raise money and provide awareness but also just for my own mental health,” she said.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and according to a recent report from the Wyoming Department of Health’s Wyoming Injury and Violence Prevention Program, state suicide rates are increasing. The study showed, on average, one person dies by suicide in Wyoming every two days, with the majority of those as a result of firearms.
Another recent study by the Violence Policy Center showed Wyoming had the second-highest rate of suicides per-capita in the nation, behind Montana. While the top states tend to fluctuate year by year and study by study, Wyoming is consistently in the top five.
Although the state’s rates are increasing, state funding has struggled to keep up, with major cuts during the 2017 Legislative session. While some funding was restored last year, Tanner said, “there’s so much more that we can do.”
Not wanting to sit idle as the state’s boom and bust economy affects mental health funding, Tanner said she tries to do what little she can herself, including sending letters to the governor and fundraising for suicide prevention groups.
“The only thing I can do is impact my world in terms of support,” she said. “I can’t control what the state does, but I can control and make my own small impact.”
Getting involved fundraising, running marathons and Out of Darkness walks for the AFSP and connecting with others, she said, was also a way to cope as she grieved.
“I think one of the last stages of healing is that you take your experience and your story, and you help somebody else,” she said. “Out of the most tragic situation of my life, how can I turn that and help somebody else and provide support for other people?”
Tanner said the AFSP has resources not only for those struggling with suicidal thoughts but those who have lost a loved one to suicide as well.
On a local level, Albany County has its own 24-hour crisis talk and text line, 977-7777, which unlike the national hotline can connect those struggling to various local resources who can help.
The crisis line is run by local nonprofit #LaramieCares, formerly known as Albany County Suicide Prevention Task Force, as well as the Behavioral Health Unit at Ivinson Memorial Hospital.
“If you know someone that needs help, call,” said Gary Hulit, vice president of the #LaramieCares Foundation. “We’re here.”
Even before getting its nonprofit status this summer, #LaramieCares has been working to prevent suicide in the community for about four years.
“We don’t want people to die by suicide, and that’s how this really came about,” Hulit said. “I was a school counselor and one of my former students had died by suicide, and in the same period, there were two students at UW that had died by suicide, and we decided we needed to do something. The stars aligned right ... and we got this started.”
After receiving block-grant funding from the WDH, the foundation has been working on a few projects, including bringing in the texting technology for the crisis line.
The foundation also has been focusing on outreach through the Sources of Strength program at Laramie Middle School and Laramie High School, as well as having booths at events like Freedom Has a Birthday, the upcoming Downtown Mashup and ad spots before movies at local movie theaters.
Hulit said a more long-term goal is working with the state to get the local crisis line nationally accredited, which would make it the first one in the state. This is important, Hulit said, because only accredited lines can be used by the national suicide hotline to connect callers to local resources.