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Dix teen promotes suicide awareness at Out of the Darkness Walk in Sidney


For The Sun-Telegraph

Gaje Vanbenberg

Gaje Vanbenberg has walked miles in the shoes of those contemplating suicide. A senior at Potter-Dix High School, Vanbenberg attempted suicide last fall. This weekend, he'll walk a 5K with others to help prevent suicide and bring awareness to the problem.

Following the attempt, he was court-ordered to attend a rehabilitation clinic in Omaha that helped him turn his life around. At the clinic, Vanbenberg said he learned about the Out of the Darkness Walk, an effort to raise awareness and funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Part of his therapy is to help yourself by helping others, so the teen decided it was time, then and there, to "pay it forward."

The Out of the Darkness Walk begins at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Elk's Lodge at 1040 Jackson Street. Registration begins at 2 p.m., and there is no cost to participate. T-shirts will be available for purchase as a fundraiser for suicide prevention research.

Vanbenberg, 17, said he knew he had a mental illness as a pre-teen. He self-medicated with drugs and alcohol to combat his depression, eventually overdosing on drugs as part of his attempt to end his suffering.

"I'd witnessed a guy shoot himself," Vanbenberg said. "I thought I could deal with things for a while with drugs and alcohol, but I couldn't."

Vanbenberg said he learned at the rehab center of things he could do in place of alcohol, drugs, cutting and other self-harming techniques to distract himself from thoughts of suicide. Often, it's a heat of the moment decision, he said and distractions are a way to cope with the (immediate) problem until you're able to deal with it rationally.

Now, the youth surrounds himself with supportive friends and family who help deal with his problems and support his efforts to help others. Those friends and family are his planning committee for this weekend's walk.


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