Out of the Darkness and Into Some Sneakers
Suicide affects more than just the person involved. It affects the friends, family, and acquaintances of the person. It affects the rescue workers and morticians. It even affects people who did not know the person at all. However, there is something that can be done.
The Out of the Darkness Walk is hosted by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and serves many functions. The walk will be held at Humboldt Park on Sunday, October 14, 2018, with final registration beginning at 9 a.m., the walk beginning at 11 a.m., and the walk ending at 1 p.m.
Walk participants can choose to wear honor beads (similar to Mardi Gras necklaces) in colors ranging from purple (for someone who has lost a loved one) to blue (for someone who supports the cause). The tradition allows for increased kinship and understanding among the walkers.
Besides honoring others, the Out of the Darkness Walk serves purposes like fundraising. According to Gena Orlando, board secretary of the AFSP and chair of the walk, it’s mostly about healing, though.
Orlando cited her favorite healing story about a man, who, having lost his daughter to suicide, walked up to the honor bead booth to find his honor bead color was white. When he saw others were wearing white beads too, he knew they also had lost children.
“He knew he wasn’t alone,” Orlando said.
While healing is the core part of the walk, it isn’t the only part. Even though registration is free, the walk is also a fundraiser for the AFSP. The money is used for over 20 different courses on suicide prevention (and related topics) that the foundation offers.
One class, originally started in Australia and adopted by the AFSP, is called Mental Health First Aid, and it teaches participants to deal with mental emergencies the same as any other medical emergency. The class covers how to identify a potentially suicidal person, what to say, what not to say, and who to call.
The class is all day, but the foundation also offers shorter classes, called Lunch & Learns, which highlight how talk can save lives. Several of these courses can be found at public libraries and campuses, at no cost.
The AFSP is also working on getting legislation passed and barriers put up on Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge, as it has become a popular place for suicide attempts in Milwaukee.
Because the AFSP finances these endeavors, the walk’s fundraising campaign has been decreasing that financial burden. In 2011, there were 243 participants who raised $13,794. In 2017, there were 1827 participants who raised $111,185. The goal for 2018 is to gain more walkers and to raise at least $100,000 again.
“I hope as the walk grows that more people are coming out to support suicide prevention, not that more people are dying,” Orlando said.
Orlando lost two of her best friends to suicide in 1995. She understands how devastating the loss can be and wanted to do something to help stop suicides and to help give support to survivors. When she found that the AFSP sponsored the Out of the Darkness Walk near her home, she immediately joined.
As the years went by, she became more and more involved, and she helped develop Wisconsin’s own Chapter of the AFSP. Orlando now is the board secretary and cherishes every day she works there. Her wish is for all people to lead happy, healthy lives … even with mental illness.
Megan Sneesby, a five-year Walk veteran and volunteer, has a similar wish. Sneesby represents multiple honor beads: she wears blue because she supports the cause, green for her own struggles with mental illness and suicidal thoughts, teal for loved ones who struggle, and purple for lost loved ones.
“Even if you can’t donate but want to be a part of the cause, you should still come and walk,” Sneesby said. “There’s nothing more encouraging than seeing the support surrounding this walk.”
Robert Kehl, an employee at the U.S. Bank Building in Milwaukee, is also excited about the walk.
“I see the Hoan Bridge from my work. I’ve been stuck in traffic as a potential jumper was talked down. Now that I know about this walk, I’m in!”
Join the Out of Darkness Walk this October. Everyone is welcome.