Saturday marks the 10th Annual Johnny Leathers Jr. Memorial Golf Tournament at Woodmont Golf and Country Club in Canton.
Johnny’s parents, Lisa and Wayne Leathers of Canton, started the Johnny Foundation to raise awareness about depression and promote education on suicide prevention. The foundation is a small, nonprofit organization run through all-volunteer efforts.
Lisa Leathers said she calls depression a brain illness rather than a mental illness. She said she wants parents of depressed children to recognize the symptoms before it is too late.
“We didn’t recognize the symptoms in our son because we did not know the symptoms,” Leathers said. “The brain is an organ just like the heart or kidneys and when it is sick, you have different symptoms. We want to help people understand when their child comes to them, I want them to be educated to know what the symptoms are.”
Leathers said that while raising money to battle the disease is important, it is equally important to raise awareness.
“This is an illness just like diabetes. It is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness,” she said. “This illness knows no boundaries and has no mercy.”
This year’s proceeds will fund awareness projects and counseling sessions for those who might not have the financial means to get help, she said.
“Over the past 10 years, we have been blessed to have raised over $120,000 for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention and over $25,000 for counseling funding,” she said.
Leathers said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report states that every year, about 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at emergency departments across the U.S.
In addition, suicide is the third leading cause of death for that age group. Those age 40 to 59 have the highest death by suicide rates and more U.S. soldiers ended their own life in 2012 than were killed in combat, she said.
Leathers said 84 golfers are signed up to participate this year, and organizers are praying for good weather.
Awareness signs featuring memorial pictures will be posted on each hole. Leathers said the signs show that the victims are people, not numbers.
Money raised helps provide patients with needed counseling if they cannot afford it and with medications if they are unable to pay for them.
“In the community, we have been conscious to help those who can’t pay,” Leathers said.
People often thank her for sharing her story with them, she said.
“It is too late to help Johnny, but it is not too late for the nearly 1 million people that attempt suicide every year,” Leathers said. “Our prayer is that God will use the organization to shine His light in the darkness that so many people struggle with by providing resources, help and hope.”
For more information on the tournament or resources to assist in suicide prevention or to make a donation, visit thejohnnyfoundation.org.