More than one thousand Toledo-area community members gathered the morning of Saturday Oct. 7 to
walk and raise awareness for mental health and suicide.
Toledo’s Out of the Darkness Walk is an annual event sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The AFSP is the largest nonprofit organization in the United States. It seeks to fund scientific research and raise awareness for suicide and mental health.
The walk has been held in different parks within the Toledo area since 2008 and has been held specifically at International Park since 2015. This marked the event’s 10th year.
Registration opened at 9:30 a.m., and the walk took place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
The event also included a resource fair and various activities for children and families to honor those who have been lost to suicide.
This year, the event raised approximately $45,000 for the AFSP.
Rachel Valis, co-chair of the Northern Ohio Chapter of the AFSP, was heavily involved with the planning for the walk and said the event gives the people of Northwest Ohio a platform to help bring the topics of mental illness and suicide out of the darkness.
“It gives survivors of suicide loss an opportunity to come out of their own darkness from the grief of losing someone to suicide,” said Valis. “It gives someone with lived experience a place where they can celebrate that they have found a way out of the darkness; and those struggling with mental illness a place where they can find support and resources to help them come out of their darkness.”
The motivation behind attending this walk is personal for many, including Valis, who lost both her aunt and mother to suicide.
“I was determined to change the way people thought about mental illness and suicide,” Valis said. “It angered me so much that when people would talk about how they died that they would lower their voice or talk around the word suicide. Suicide and mental illness are nothing to be ashamed of because, just like any other organ in the body, the brain can have a disease too.”
Community member Mindy Bullock attended the walk for the first time this year, and her reason for participating is personal as well.
“As someone who has struggled with depression and battled suicide myself, this event made me thankful I was able to get the help I needed to survive,” Bullock said. “It helped me to grieve and have closure as I reflected on so many lives lost.”
University of Toledo students got involved with this event as well, including UT’s chapter of Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology.
Michaela Simon is a fifth-year student at UT majoring in psychology. Simon is also the president of Psi Chi at UT.
“For me, the Out of Darkness Walk is about remembering the names of our friends and family members and community members who have taken their own lives,” Simon said. “It is also about preventing further needless loss of life by letting it be known that there is help and removing the stigma of mental health issues and mental health treatment.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is one of the leading causes of death, and this rate is on the rise. In 2015 alone, suicide consumed the lives of more than 44,000 people.
“The Out of The Darkness Walk really made me stop and think about how much people don't talk about regarding mental health,” said Bullock. “Mental health is not something that is easy to figure out, and events like this walk help to break down the barriers to have open conversations about how our lives have been changed by this issue.”
Suicide and mental illness are still issues that affect a large number of people, and many people have felt the ripple effect of suicide in some way, Bullock said.
“Don’t be afraid to talk about it,” Bullock said. “Ask for help. Scream for help if you need it. Please don't give up. There really is hope.”