People who've lost friends and loved ones to suicide held a walk Saturday to draw back the curtain of stigma and silence, and thrust the issue out into the open — literally.

About 50 people took part in the walk around Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John's.

They carried a large banner that read: Survivors of Suicide Loss — Behind the Smile. Another sign stated simply: Stop the Sitgma.

"We say behind the smile because people walk around every day with a smile on their face, and you might think they're fine, but they aren't fine," said Tina Davies, facilitator for the Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group in St. John's.

"So we want to get more people talking, and to get this more out into the open."

tina davies

Tina Davies is the facilitator and member of a St. John's-area support group for people who've lost loved ones to suicide. (CBC)

Davies has first-hand knowledge of just how hard it can be to deal with a loss due to suicide. Her eldest son, Richard, hung himself in December 1995.

"The first five years after his death there are huge chunks I don't even remember," she said, adding it's important to at least attempt to discuss such a loss with someone who's dealing it.

"You won't upset them. As a matter of fact, you'll make them feel better when you bring up their loved one's name. You just make them feel that someone other than them remembers their loved one, and that's really important."

Roger Baggs, who lost a close friend to suicide, also took part in Saturday's walk. He echoes the growing call for fundamental change in the way the public views the issue, which he notes is often linked to mental illness.

"We have to treat people who are in crisis very, very seriously ... as seriously as we would treat someone who had a heart attack and presented at an emergency room."

Troubling stats

It's estimated that one in five people will deal with some form of mental illness during their lives. But Baggs doesn't believe the amount of resources devoted to it is adequate.

Saturday's walk was held to coincide with mental health awareness week.

Davies says while not everyone who takes their own life is afflicted, the vast majority are.

"So there's stigma attached to that as well," she said. "So we have to get people talking about it, otherwise it stays inside you ... the pain and hurt."

The support group, which was formed almost a decade ago, meets twice a month and is open to anyone.

"You can come when you need the support," said Davies. "There's no commitment to a time because with grief, it's up and down. We're there when you need us."