Benton, KY, woman who lost son to suicide spreading awareness

BENTON, KY — With the topic of suicide continuing to make national headlines, a Benton, Kentucky, woman who lost her son is raising awareness to help prevent future tragedies.

Patty Walker Canon said her son, Justin, took his own life in 2003, when he was just 22 years old.

“He always had a big smile on his face and always a hug, always a hug for whoever he saw,” Canon recalled. “I can’t keep from smiling back at him. You know, I know he doesn’t see me smiling. But, when you see that big goofy grin, it’s just a reflex to smile back at him.”

Patty Walker Canon shares a photo of her son, Justin.

Canon said her son left a note that read, “I will always love you.” That message is now memorialized in a plaque in Canon’s home.

“There’s not probably an hour of the day that I don’t think about Justin,” said Canon. “I miss his laugh. I miss his hugs, probably more than anything. I miss him at holidays, I miss him every day.”

Samantha Powell, a certified prevention specialist at Four Rivers Behavioral Health in Paducah, said if you see any signs someone may be suicidal, like severe depression, don’t be afraid to communicate.

“A lot of people think that asking the suicide question — Are you thinking about suicide? — will put the thought in someone’s head, and it absolutely will not. If anything, they’ll say no, and you’ve opened up a line of communication. Or, they say yes, and you can get them help,” Powell said.

Justin Walker was 22 when he passed away.

Canon agrees that having a dialogue is key.

“We have to be able to reach out to these people that we think may be struggling and ask them ‘Are you doing OK? What can I do to help?’ And maybe take them by the hand, give them a hug,” said Canon.

According to the Kentucky Department of Vital Statistics, the state’s average rate of suicide between 2006 to 2015 was 15.66 per 100,000 people. The national average during that time span was 12.49 per 100,000 people. There were 396 suicide deaths in western Kentucky during that period.

The Walk to Fight Suicide will take place on Saturday, Sept. 8, at Kentucky Oaks Mall. Registration will be at 9:30 a.m. The walk will begin at 11 a.m. For more information on the event, visit afsp.org/paducah.

Those struggling with thoughts of suicide can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Western Kentucky callers will be directed to the crisis unit in Mayfield, said Powell. The hotline is free and available 24 hours a day.

Four Rivers Behavioral Health also offers a 24-hour crisis line: 800-592-3980. For more information, visit 4rbh.org.

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