In her suicide awareness campaign, Erica Sweet Watkins believes it’s
time society started talking about the problem, instead of sweeping
it under the mat.
Sharing their grief with a counselor helped her family through the
devastating months after her brother, Douglas “Dougie” John Sweet,
took his life in January 2002.
The family, including Dougie’s parents, Doug and Joan Carter of
Burbank, began counseling in March of that year. Their counselor was
a suicide survivor and gave Watkins a new perspective, she said.
“It changed my thinking -- I got educated about suicide,” Watkins
And now she is educating others so they know where to go for help,
whether they are contemplating suicide or are families or individuals
who have lost loved ones to suicide.
For the second year, her Team Sweetwater is participating in the
Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center’s “Alive and Running” 5K/10K
walk/run Sept. 21 near Los Angeles International Airport. It raises
money for counseling and other services the center provides,
including a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline.
Last year, Erica and her husband, Brad, organized the team of 75
adults and children and raised more than $500 from the proceeds of
their Sweetwater T-shirts. This year, the couple hopes to raise
They are encouraging people to join Team Sweetwater, to buy
memento Sweetwater T-shirts and baseball caps with proceeds going to
the suicide prevention center and to make monetary donations to the
Erica’s brother Dougie was 31 when he died. The Burbank native
owned Sweetwater Pools, a pool-cleaning business here. He was also
manager of his parents’ Carter’s VSP Parking business at the
Burbank-Glendale- Pasadena Airport.
The most important thing Watkins wants to promote is telling those
contemplating suicide that help is out there, that people at the
center will listen. Talking about it is the most important way to
prevent suicide, she said.
People are more open about HIV and AIDS today but not so about
suicide, she said. An acquaintance told Watkins she had no problem
wearing her AIDS prevention T-shirt, but had to think twice about
wearing a suicide prevention one.
“I don’t want people to shut down and not talk about it,” she
said. “They need to recognize there is help out there, and that
suicide is not the only way out.”
The center not only provides counseling for those thinking about
suicide, but families who have lost members to suicide. For
information on local meetings, call (310) 751-5426. The crisis
services line is (310) 390-8896.
The cost for the Team Sweetwater T-shirt is $15. To participate in
the walk/run, the cost is $20 before Sept. 16 and $25 after. To
register, call Watkins at 360-8716.