If you or someone you know is in crisis, or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. These services are free, available 24/7, and confidential.
Three years ago, we lost a family member to suicide. He was a Colonel in the U.S. Army.
Five years ago, we lost a friend’s son to suicide. He served in the Illinois National Guard (ILNG).
Last weekend, I led a team of walkers in the Out of the Darkness Walk to bring awareness to suicide, mental health issues, and depression. We walked “In Honor of Our Soldiers and Airmen.”
The Walk Out of the Darkness joins together hundreds to thousands of people to raise awareness and funding that allow AFSP to invest in research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy, and support survivors of suicide loss.
Through their work, the AFSP has set a goal to reduce the annual suicide rate by 20% by 2025. The most recent walk in Chicago in September raised over $1,000,000, a first in the organization’s history. This is an amazing feat, and a reason to feel hopeful. With this money, the AFSP can work to make good on their goal for 2025.
When addressing this particular crisis among children and young adults in Illinois, Cummings stated, “I think a lot of people, young adults, still feel a stigma associated with admitting they have a mental health challenge. I read a statistic that came from the National Depressed and Bipolar Association that said 90 percent of Americans who are experiencing a major depressive episode will not seek help. They’re afraid, they’re embarrassed, so they don’t seek help.”
The battle to fight the stigma and barriers against getting treatment are vital, because, as Cummings notes, “Suicide is preventable if people can get the help they need.”
Each walker wears a necklace of colored beads that represent who they walk for. This year, silver beads were added for first responders and military members, and teal beads were added for those who struggle with suicidal thoughts, or who have attempted suicide.
On these walks, the participants share their stories. They write with chalk on the sidewalk, sharing personal messages of loss and hope. Some wear their loved one’s messages on their t-shirts.
Through our work, through our steps, through our voices, we can remind everyone that mental health struggles and depression “[are] not something to hide. [They are] not something that’s in the dark. You want to bring it out in the light. That’s how you can address it and make it go away.”
Last year, the Springfield, IL Out of the Darkness Walk raised about $48,000. Organizers expect to continue this trend. We will keep on walking, sharing, and advocating until everyone feels safe bringing their struggles into the light.
If you are interested in participating in a Walk Out of the Darkness in your community or finding other ways to help destigmatize mental health and suicide prevention, please visit the AFSP website and take action.
Story by Danette Hayes