Community walk brings survivors ‘out of darkness’

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Among the serene hills of Coral Canyon, family members, friends and supporters will be gathering to remember those lost to suicide and to raise awareness during the annual Out Of The Darkness Community Walk.

The walk gives participants a chance to talk about suicide, how it has affected them, and what can be done to prevent it while connecting with others.  

The walk, an event featured by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, takes place Saturday at Highland Park in Washington. The event starts at 9 a.m. with registration and check-in.

“[The event] is an opportunity to walk in honor of those we’ve lost to suicide and to honor those who are still here and struggle with suicide ideation,” said Tina Hender, St. George resident and AFSP Utah chapter board member. “[The walk] gives a foundation of hope, a place to be accepted, and not judged for mental illness.”

Lynn Bjorkman, St. George resident and National Alliance on Mental Illness community liaison and Reach4Hope co-director, said the walk is a culminating event that goes in conjunction with Suicide Awareness and Prevention Week. 

“[The walk will] help in the healing process of the family members, who are survivors,” Bjorkman said. “[Those] who suffer [the] pain like no other get a great deal of healing by participating in these walks.”  

Support from the community and participation in the walk gives AFSP members funds to purchase materials and obtain training to be available for those who need help, Hender said.

The walk opens up with a ceremony to share personal stories about the beads participants wear. The beads signify lost loved ones; specific colors have meaning. 

Blue means support the cause, green means one struggles with self harm, white means the loss of a child, red the loss of a spouse and orange the loss of a sibling, Hender said. 

This year, a memory quilt is being created with photos of those who have been lost to suicide. 

“We provide all of the different things that people would need … [when they] just don’t know where to turn,” Hender said. “It provides them with support. It gives them the option to seek the right people to get help from.”

Hender hopes to raise $15,000. So far $7,000 has been donated.

Hender said fifty percent of the money raised will go toward purchasing educational materials for schools in Utah.

The funds helped Hender obtain training to facilitate a local support group.

The other 50 percent contributes to AFSP’s research, which emphasizes studying mental illness, Hender said.

AFSP also works with local organizations National Alliance on Mental Illness, Reach4Hope and Southwest Behavioral Health Center, Hender said. 

NAMI is an organization that helps support and educate families who have loved ones who suffer from mental illness and those who cope with mental illness, Bjorkman said.

“Ninety percent of all suicides are all related to depression and or substance abuse,” Bjorkman said. “If you have any mental illness, particularly depression, the risk is far greater.”

Reach4Hope is a coalition that educates the community on suicide prevention and offers support for survivors, Bjorkman said.

This will be Hender’s third walk. Suicide prevention and awareness is an extremely personal cause to her; she is a two-time survivor of suicide loss. 

“[The walk] brings people to a point where the fear [of talking about suicide] is gone,” Hender said. “It removes that stigma, it removes the fear and gives people freedom to feel accepted or understood.”

Pre-registration is encouraged through the website www.afsp.org/walk. 

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact The Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255 or the Southwest Behavioral Health Center at 435-634-5600. 

If readers would like to submit photos of a loved one lost to suicide for the quilt, contact Tina Hender at 801-529-4895 or [email protected].

For more information on NAMI or Reach4Hope, contact Lynn Bjorkman at 435-256-8351 or [email protected].