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Dormont man finds hope, raises $10K for mental illness through cross-country walk

Matthew Santoni
| Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Ian Cummins, 23, of Dormont just completed a walk from Virginia Beach to San Francisco to raise awareness of mental health treatment and suicide prevention. Cummins' brother, Ryan, struggled with depression and committed suicide at 20 in November 2013.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Ian Cummins, 23, of Dormont just completed a walk from Virginia Beach to San Francisco to raise awareness of mental health treatment and suicide prevention. Cummins' brother, Ryan, struggled with depression and committed suicide at 20 in November 2013.
Ian Cummins, 23, of Dormont, just completed a walk across America from Virginia Beach to San Francisco in order to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention.
Submitted photo
Ian Cummins, 23, of Dormont, just completed a walk across America from Virginia Beach to San Francisco in order to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention.
Ian Cummins, 23, of Dormont, just completed a walk across America from Virginia Beach to San Francisco in order to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention. Photo taken in Virginia.
Submitted photo
Ian Cummins, 23, of Dormont, just completed a walk across America from Virginia Beach to San Francisco in order to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention. Photo taken in Virginia.
Ian Cummins, 23, of Dormont, just completed a walk across America from Virginia Beach to San Francisco in order to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention.
Submitted photo
Ian Cummins, 23, of Dormont, just completed a walk across America from Virginia Beach to San Francisco in order to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention.

As he trudged across the country from Virginia Beach to San Francisco, Ian Cummins knew he was not alone.

The friends who walked across whole states with him; the strangers who offered their homes, food or just words of encouragement; the family at home in Dormont: All were there for him as he walked from early March through late August.

He hoped that people suffering from mental illness or thoughts of suicide, like his brother Ryan did before taking his life in November, would know they aren't alone either.

“I found so many people who could relate, and I was getting them to talk about their own stories,” said Cummins, 23, at an event on Tuesday in Mt. Lebanon, recognizing the conclusion of his cross-country trek.

“There's nothing worse in the world than feeling alone, and by sharing my brother's story I want to get people to share their own stories, maybe help someone they know to open up, and maybe create a ripple effect.”

Cummins said that after struggling for several years, his brother committed suicide on Nov. 9. He proposed a cross-country walk at Ryan's wake, but the loss was still too fresh for the family. They changed their minds over time and found it uplifting to plan and discuss the event.

“If we hadn't focused on Ian, away from our grief, I can't comprehend how horrible dealing with the last year would have been,” said their father, Jim Cummins, 51. “It's been tremendous; tremendously healing.”

As part of the walk, Ian Cummins raised about $10,000 from friends, neighbors, churches and community groups for the National Alliance on Mental Illness's Southwestern Pennsylvania chapter, which will hold a suicide prevention symposium on Nov. 13 at Station Square, with Cummins as the keynote speaker.

Cummins praised NAMI's advocacy for helping to reduce the stigma that prevents people from talking about mental illness and suicide.

“Everybody we talked to about mental illness or suicide, everybody understands,” said Jake Lusardi, 20, a friend of Ryan who joined Ian on his walk starting in Kansas. “It's weird that it's still kind of taboo, even when you know somebody who's struggling.”

“My brother was one statistic, was one of 33,000 people who commit suicide each year,” Cummins said. “If each one of us could put a face to each statistic ... you give people hope.”

NAMI offers crisis counseling and family support and education networks in 10 Southwestern Pennsylvania counties, and will host a program for families of children with apparent mental health issues this spring at The Children's Institute in Squirrel Hill, said Christine Michaels, executive director.

State Rep. Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebanon, hosted the event on Tuesday at his district office on Washington Road to recognize Cummins, Lusardi and their families. Miller has proposed a live statewide registry of open beds in mental health treatment facilities so it's easier for patients to find help, rather than just getting short-term stays in emergency rooms and hospitals.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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