PALMETTO -- Hundreds put their feet to the pavement Saturday morning to increase awareness about depression and prevent suicide.
About 800 people participated in the 13th annual Walk for Life starting at Sutton Park in Palmetto onto the Green Bridge over the Manatee River to Bradenton and back to increase awareness of depression and help prevent suicide.
The event was hosted by the Centerstone, formerly Manatee Glens, and the Florida Department of Health in Manatee.
Centerstone CEO Mary Ruiz said she loves the high energy the event produces each year, especially from students from local high school Key Clubs.
"There's so many families out here that have lost a loved one to suicide," Ruiz said. "Then they see all these kids out here, they feel embraced."
The work Centerstone does is difficult and challenging, Ruiz said. Each year the center helps more than 16,000 people, she said.
"We lose more people to suicide in Manatee County than to auto accidents, and that's true nationwide," Ruiz said.
Depression is not curable she adds but, just as with illnesses such as diabetes, it is manageable.
"It doesn't have to limit your life," Ruiz said.
Some walked bravely in memory of a loved one lost to depression and suicide.
For Lindsey Wagner, the loss of her husband -- who meant everything to her -- has been tremendous.
"That I'm not alone, that there are people out there who are struggling and wanting help, and just to see everyone out here taking part in the walk," gave her a sense of support, she said.
She has good days and bad days
since her 34-year-old husband, Ken Wagner, a vice president at financial services holding company BB&T Corp., committed suicide Aug. 25, 2014, she said. Her husband suffered with depression, she said.
The couple's daughters, ages 4 and 6, also struggle with the loss, but she says they have had the support of family and friends.
If she could send her husband a message, she said she would want him to know: "That he's missed more than he knows and he meant so much to so many people. If we could just turn back the clock."
For Lindsay Wagner, walking was about creating awareness and encouraging those who need help to reach out and know they are not alone.
"There are other people other there, even if they hide it with a smile or a laugh," Wagner said. "Reach out and get the help that you need, so you don't put somebody else in this situation."
Among those taking to the stage to share their personal story was Matthew Hines, 20, a Bright House employee who struggles with depression.
To walk alongside others who know and share his struggle was refreshing, he said.
"I wish more people knew about it," Hines said.
His own experience gave him the courage when he spoke on stage, he said.
"I thought about the loving words my family and friends always gave me," Hines said. "I thought about those people who don't have any loved ones."
After the 5K, participants gathered for an award and butterfly release ceremony. Those who lost a loved one to suicide were invited on stage and given a butterfly to release.
Marie Overgaard, 83, attended as she does every year although she and her husband cannot partake in the walk. In 2003, their grandson, Matthew Overgaard, a soldier with the U.S. Army, committed suicide.
"Depression is usually the No. 1 cause of suicide, especially in the military," Overgaard said.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.