The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention held its annual Out of the Darkness Walk Sunday evening at the SIUE Gardens to commemorate National Suicide Prevention Week.
This year, National Suicide Prevention Week ran from Sept. 8 to Sept. 14.
AFSP promotes this week-long campaign each year to share information about suicide prevention and warning signs.
The Out of the Darkness Walk consisted of the walk itself and a vigil, which allowed attendees to remember and honor loved ones they had lost.
The vigil was added last year in collaboration with the Madison County Mental Health Alliance.
SIUE alumnae Sara Bozarth has been coordinating the event since 2010. Bozarth lost her older brother to suicide in 2007, which is what she said first led her to get involved with AFSP.
“From 2007 to 2009, I was in deep, deep grief,” Bozarth said. “Online, [I was] reaching out, trying to figure it out, because there wasn’t anything in the community for me to go to that I knew of. But I found AFSP online, and through there, different discussion boards and learning about the walk, I decided I wanted to reach out and talk to other people who had experienced the loss that I had.”
According to AFSP’s website, this year’s event raised a total of $15,447 and included 279 participants.
Bozarth said the event acts as a fundraiser, and also provides resources and information on suicide prevention and loss.
“AFSP itself puts money toward research, advocacy, education and resources for communities, Bozarth said. “So the walks, they generate money, but they also work on that awareness aspect and bring resources to people in the community who either struggle with suicidal thoughts or who have lost someone to suicide.”
Counseling Services provides support for the event through advertising and campus outreach, according to Lisa Gibson-Thompson, Counseling Services’ coordinator for outreach and prevention.
Counseling Services also runs a booth at the walk to help promote awareness and provide information about on-campus resources.
Gibson-Thompson said she believes events such as this one are important for a number of reasons.
“It helps with awareness around the topic of suicide,” Gibson-Thompson said. “It helps community members connect. It helps to reduce stigma and the sense of isolation that people experience, particularly if they have lost somebody to suicide, and so being able to come together in community can help with people’s individual processes after they’ve lost somebody.”
Psychology Club was one of the student organizations that provided volunteers for the event this year.
The group’s president, junior psychology and sociology major Mario Diaz, of Streator, Illinois, said the club decided to volunteer at the event to help spread awareness.
“We do have student volunteers just to help run the event and make sure everything’s going well,” Diaz said. “We’re just getting more involved in the community and spreading mental health awareness, so it’s important to take care of part of that psychological factor of your well-being.”
Senior psychology major Megan Bauman, of Springfield, Illinois, attended the walk for the first time this year, and learned about the walk through her internship with Counseling Services, though she has been involved with AFSP for several years.
Prior to the event, Bauman said she encouraged friends who had lost loved ones to suicide to attend the walk.
“I have a few friends who I know are also survivors of suicide loss, and I’ve personally reached out to them because I even know for myself, I had my mom pass away almost five years ago, and it’s still something that’s hard,” Bauman said. “But I knew that for my friends who have kind of gone through the same thing, that maybe if somebody reached out to them, they’d know they’re not alone, and everyone there has their own struggle with it. I think that’s just a way to get people to feel encouraged to go.”
For support resources or information about suicide prevention and how to take action, visit AFSP’s website at https://afsp.org/.