Why I “Walk to Fight Suicide”…

On Saturday, November 2nd, I participated in the AFSP 13th Annual DC Out of the Darkness Community Walk for Suicide Prevention for the 5th consecutive year.

By the time the event began, AFSP raised approximately $315,000 with the goal to reach $350,000 this year!The funds go towards research and advocacy, training, and community awareness among other activities relevant to mental health care and suicide prevention.

The event organizers noted that it was the largest DC Community walk yet! Despite the Washington Nationals holding a parade in DC for becoming World Series Champions, more than 2000 people registered and showed up to the Lincoln Memorial on a beautiful Saturday evening. It was one large community united to commemorate those we have lost to suicide, those who are still suffering, and to stop the persistent stigma on mental illness and mental health.  AFSP is the largest grassroots community effort in the United States, working to end this tenth leading cause of death and raise awareness on suicide as an important health and public policy issue.

I couldn’t participate in the DC Walk last year, as I was conducting my doctoral fieldwork in Pakistan at the time, but I still registered and raised some funds. I’m sincerely grateful to all those who donated through me the past five years of my participation, and I’m glad I was able to make it out there again yesterday for the 3-mile walk in the Heart of our beloved DC. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the fall colors, Washington Monuments, sunset on the water, along with the spirit of solidarity, made it another empowering, refreshing, beautiful and memorable experience.

It is a blessing to have the opportunity through organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to be able to express our support for the fight for better mental health care and awareness, against the ongoing societal stigma that manifests in a variety of different ways.

Over the past five years or so, I have discovered new resources through various mediums, including AFSP, about suicide and mental health in the efforts to increase my understanding and knowledge about the issues. I have used some of these resources as a form of self-help, and they remain significant towards the desired transformation.

I know that increasing knowledge and educating ourselves and others in our networks is really the only way to eradicate the stigma that elevates our suffering.

Studies have examined whether individuals with less social capital are more likely attempt suicide (Durkheim 1897; Helliwell, 2003, 2007), suggesting that well-being can be connected to social inclusion, cohesion, and a sense of belonging in the community. Funding evidence-based research to prove or disprove these findings, will help reveal the best strategies to deal with this. As a public policy PhD candidate (studying the advantages and benefits that emerge from networks, as one aspect of my research), I truly appreciate this focus of AFSP’s efforts, among others. Although intuitively it makes sense, further research may help in the variety of ways people connect in today’s world, regarding whether community ties matter. But most importantly, we need to ensure that people know their resources, and know that there are many from diverse backgrounds around the world, struggling with their unique challenges, without minimizing their unique challenges. We need to increase our understanding to ensure that we are addressing this the RIGHT way and being smart in our engagement with this issue.

A national conversation on this must continue and must be about “prevention,” beyond the connection of mental health to mass shootings and celebrity suicides, celebrity initiatives, foundations, and support from prominent influencers. Influencers, public figures and celebrities may endure great stigma, but there are many people who remain in the margins, who don’t have the ‘power’ and influence to generate social capital for the necessary “access.” Getting the proper mental health support is extremely difficult for anyone, perhaps more difficult than any other disease or condition. So not having the proper “access” and all that entails for awareness and care, in the context of mental health can be more concerning across racial, ethnic, religious, class, and geographic lines, around the world.

I have taken an ad hoc interest in mental health advocacy and awareness, just falling into it based on my own struggles. I know it is a responsibility after enduring life-long struggles, to continue talking and walking for Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention no matter where I am in life, whether it be in the context of development in crisis-affected areas, or in high schools of the most developed or industrialized nations. It’s an issue that doesn’t discriminate, and cuts across all boundaries. We see it in the White House, we see it among our armed forces and veterans, we see it in our Academic institutions, we see it in our immigrant clusters and religious communities. If it ever makes you uncomfortable to hear me or anyone talk about Suicide or Mental Health, I understand, but I cannot apologize for it. Not because I am not a nice person, but because an apology for one’s discomfort harms the “mission”…to stop the ongoing stigma. It has been proven that real valuable change in the “psyche” and in society can only happen through “discomfort.”


When the walk began yesterday, I observed the people around me, and noticed that their “I’m walking for” signs indicated a name of a friend or loved one that they lost (the name, or “dad,” “daughter,” “son,” “friend”… etc.). It’s always heartbreaking to see this. I know people who have died by suicide, but no one very close to me (thankfully). I know people in my life who have struggled or are struggling with suicidal ideations and mental health issues, but I cannot reveal or name them, obviously. But I do this in their honor too. Seeing those signs, makes me feel guilty that every year I have come here so far, I have walked for myself. There is a part of me that always feels a little selfish about it. But I believe this is actually the deeply embedded scar of shame that comes from the ingrained societal and cultural stigma we endure. I am there for myself and I am there for those in my life that I know are struggling, and I am there for those who are in the margins of our communities who are “forgotten.” And what I wrote on my sign yesterday, “victim,” only came to my mind from the gentleman there, who was helping me decide what to write at that moment. But I really dislike that word, “victim.” We are not victims. I much prefer Survivor. But we are not just survivors. We are Warriors too.

I know we can save lives, if we share our stories. I know it, because I have been sharing mine to save mine, to ensure that I won’t be in the statistic. And just having the “mission” in mind to save others, helps you save your own life. To place the oxygen mask on yourself and eventually help take care of the masks of others around us.

I’m at a critical time in my doctoral studies, but I had to take a moment out to share my reflections on this once again. It almost feels as if I have found just this one day in a year to feel that others ‘get it’ by being a part of a community that understands or that is taking a moment to try to understand. So if I am here in the DC area, or if I am anywhere where there is a “Community Walk” on this, I will go.

I also want to make a crucial point that our stories matter no matter what stage we are in life. But sharing our stories on this issue matters the most in the most delicate fragile situations at the most delicate times. It matters when it hurts the most. Not after we get our PhDs, not after we secured top positions at our dream jobs and established a sense of stability, or when we become prominent public figures, but at those moments when it matters the most, when all that we love and all that we work hard for is at stake, when it takes the most courage to ‘come out’ and stand up for ourselves and support our brothers and sisters suffering in the margins to make sure that this never happens again.

Only then will we really beat that Stigma.

And I hope we learn how important it is to support those we know who are struggling with mental health issues, as a COMMUNITY: friends, co-workers, family, colleagues, etc… come behind them, and let them know, we are there for them, we won’t fail them and we won’t give up on them.

I haven’t given up, and I won’t give up on you.

I WALK because I believe we can stop the Stigma on Suicide and Mental Health.

I WALK because I believe we need safe, inclusive, and open spaces to talk freely about Mental Health.

I WALK because the stigmas and taboos on mental health among our cultural and religious communities continue to be pervasive and harmful and must be addressed.

I WALK because I am tired of being ashamed and cannot wear a mask.

I WALK because I am empowered to join the fight against suicide and Mental Health Stigma for my brothers and sisters here in the US and around the world.

I WALK to fight suicide, as a Warrior Queen, not because I am “brave” but because I believe there is no other recourse but to fight…

Although there are thousands of people who Walk this Walk, I come there alone. I’ve been walking “alone” every year I’ve been out there. But I hope next year I won’t have to walk alone. I hope the next time I Walk to Fight Suicide, you won’t let me Walk alone…You will Walk with me.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Elsa Talat Khwaja, people standing, outdoor and closeup

“The victim should have the right to end his life, if he wants. But I think it would be a great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.” –  Stephen Hawking

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Peace, Love, Warmth, Blessings,

Your Elsa,

Warrior KQueen

If it isn’t clear on this post, on why I “walk to fight suicide,” then here are some posts I have written in the past, including those from previous years going on this DC Community Walk, that can demonstrate the dire need to address this issue. These specifically hit on suicide, there are many others reflecting on mental health too, a core theme of the blog. Please take a moment to skim through them when you have a chance. Thank you!

(Please NOTE: I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused by some missing photos in these posts. There is some issue with the blog host that I working to resolve. I will go back to those posts in the future to fix them! Thank you for reading!)









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