Walkers Hope to Shed Light on Sensitive Topic

People from the area will join together Sunday, Oct. 21 to walk for a subject they hope to shed some light on. 

The 2012 “Out of the Darkness” community walk has been hosted annually for the past three years by Mercy Hospital’s Wellness in the Valley along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Debbie Anderson, director of Wellness in the Valley, said the intention of the walk, which also takes place in communities around the nation, is to bring the topic of suicide out of the darkness.

“So many people with depression, or depressive issues, or even mental health issues, it used to be that it was embarrassing — ‘I can’t tell anyone’ — and even when they got suicidal, no one wanted to talk about it, and if someone did kill themselves, it was taboo to even talk to that family,” Anderson said.

“The walk is to honor those survivors and to let them know that it’s okay to think about the person who died and honor them, and also it is to raise awareness about suicide,” she continued. 

The public is invited to the five-kilometer walk, which begins at 2 p.m. at Chautauqua Park, making a square through downtown Valley City before ending in Chautauqua Park. 

There will be rest stops, one being at the museum, where walkers will stop for coffee and to view the window display.

Anderson said walkers do not have to complete the entire walk. If they need to cut across the square-shaped route, they can, she said. 

Following the walk, Wellness in the Valley will have a short presentation, where they’ll announce the amount of money raised.
“We found that people just want to walk,” Anderson said, so the program won’t be long. 

Walkers can register that day, but “we just encourage people to register online,” Anderson said, which is at www.outofthedarkness.org
The walk can be done in teams or individually. Teams often work together to do fun activities or sell beads and other novelty items to raise money. 

Walkers are not required to make a donation, but the money that is raised will benefit Wellness in the Valley and the North Dakota branch of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“The money stays either in our city or in our state,” Anderson said, adding that the American Foundation for Suicide usually gives the money back to the community. 

The money raised goes to “providing materials to families who have had someone kill themselves” along with free counseling and referral services. 

“We do use the money for suicide awareness and intervention and prevention,” Anderson said, adding that they put materials in all Barnes County schools. 

“We don’t charge for that,” Anderson said, “because we raise money to do that, and we don’t want to have to get to the point where we have to start charging for all these services because it’s real important that they’re there.”

Donations are accepted  until Dec. 31. 

Raising money and awareness is a large part of the walk, but honoring and remembering those lost to suicide is also part of the walk.
Walkers are encouraged to bring pictures or banners of someone who has died of suicide for the memory wall.

“We really want them to be honored,” Anderson said. “And it’s that talking point to of, ‘you’re not alone.’”

“I think a lot of people don’t think (suicide is) an issue, but in Barnes County, it’s an issue,” Anderson said. “Even across our country it’s an issue.”

Nationally, suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults, Anderson said, but in North Dakota, it’s the second leading cause of death for that age group. 

Anderson said that a person who has a close relative or friend who has killed himself by suicide is at a higher risk for committing suicide. 
In Barnes County, the suicide rate is high because of that contingent effect. 
“It keeps happening, and no one’s doing anything about it,” Anderson said.

Last year 122 walkers joined together for the cause. 
“We’re really pushing to get the same (amount of walkers this year),” Anderson said. They raised close to $10,000 last year, which they to double this year.

Wellness in the Valley specializes in mental health serving Barnes County and seven surrounding counties. The annual walk is its biggest fundraiser. 

Another way Wellness in the Valley tries to prevent suicide is by offering free depression screening during National Depression Screening Day, which is held every year during Mental Illness Awareness Week in October. This year, it falls on Oct. 11. 

National Depression Screening Day raises awareness and screens people for depression and related mood disorders.

Wellness in the Valley will be offering free depression screenings for all who are interested.

For more information or to visit with someone about mental health services contact Debbie Anderson with Wellness in the Valley at (701) 845-6436. They’re also looking for volunteers for the walk. 

Warning signs for suicide include, but are not limited to:
•Previous suicide attempt(s)
•History of depression or other mental illness
•Alcohol or drug abuse
•Losing interest in things one used to care about
•Making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless
•Visiting or calling people to say good-bye

Source: North Dakota Department of Health and Wellness in the Valley