Josh Velasquez has seen up close the pain suicide can cause.

The high school swimming champion, who is now pursuing a neuroscience degree at the University of Arizona, battled depression and suicidal thoughts only a year ago. And six years ago, he lost his best friend to suicide.

“In 2011, my best friend, Aaron, became another suicide statistic. Like others, Aaron felt that no one understood him or his place in the world,” Velasquez says. “He thought it would be best if he was no longer around. It destroyed everyone that knew him.”

To honor Aaron and to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Velasquez is running in a half-marathon in Long Beach, Calif., on Oct. 8. He has set up a fundraising page for AFSP, with the goal of raising $10,000.

Velasquez is now very proudly out and gay and his Instagram page is filled with photos of him and his boyfriend, so life is good. But he knows well the struggles of dealing with depression and thoughts of suicide.

In a joint coming out story this year — written along with fellow swimmer Axel Reed — he discussed the trauma of being sexually abused as a child. “Last year I was really struggling with what happened to me as a kid,” Velasquez told me. “Last November, something happened on campus that triggered a memory, and with school being hard I fell into deep depression.”

In his fundraising letter for AFSP, he credits the organization with helping him deal with his own suicidal thoughts.

Last year, like tens of thousands of others, I was suffering with extreme depression and suicidal thoughts. But I was a lucky one: I was pulled out of the dark hole I had dug for myself by close friends, family and assistance from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

Nearly 45,000 lives are lost to suicide annually. This number can be lessened when friends and family are educated on the signs affiliated with extreme depression and suicidal tendencies. …

Depression doesn't need to be a terminal illness: think of it as a beast that needs to be slain. …

On October 8th of this year, I will be running the Long Beach half-marathon in support of those taken too soon by depression and suicide. If you or anyone you know has ever been affected by suicide, I ask that you please consider making a donation to AFSP, whether it be small or large, it all can make a difference to someone.

Thank you for your understanding, support and let's slay a beast together!

Suicide and depression disproportionately affect LGBT people. I donated to AFSP for Josh’s run and urge you to do the same.

Josh Velasquez, 21, is a senior pursuing a degree in neuroscience and cognitive behavior at the University of Arizona. You can find him on Instagram (@whoisjoshv) and Facebook. You can also email him at [email protected].

Don't forget to share: