Approximately 400 Ann Arbor community members embarked in unseasonably warm temperatures to raise awareness for suicide education and prevention by participating in the Out of the Darkness community walk Saturday morning in West Park.
Out of the Darkness community walks took place nationwide this weekend with the aim of raising awareness about suicide prevention as well as funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to implement education and awareness strategies.
The Ann Arbor walk was one of more than ten Out of the Darkness walks that took place in the state of Michigan over the weekend. According to Patricia Wheeler, chair of the walk and board member for the AFSP southeast Michigan chapter, this year’s Ann Arbor walk reported record breaking funds — surpassing their original goal of $30,000 dollars by raising over $50,000.
“For this walk, today we have raised more money than any walk in Ann Arbor,” Wheeler said.
The money raised came from donations from local organizations as well as funds raised by participating teams and individuals. All the funds raised are used to raise awareness about suicide and to develop methods of education directed toward suicide prevention.
“Fifty percent of the funds raised today stay in the southeast Michigan area to help with local education and prevention measures,” Wheeler said. “The other half goes to the national organization, which is collectively the largest funder of suicide research.”
Most participants were Ann Arbor community members including Ann Arbor residents, high school and University students, all of which were present to support the AFSP’s efforts to raise awareness.
LSA senior Taylor Rovin joined the walk to show her support for suicide prevention and participated on behalf of her feminist sorority, Zeta Omega Eta, which included the walk as part of their rush week events.
“All of the rush events for my sorority are optional but I thought this one was really cool and an important event to be a part of,” Rovin said.
Rovin and LSA senior Haley Rough walked as a team and raised over $350 through social media. Rough said she has known people who have been impacted by suicide and believes the walk represents an important cause that needs more attention.
“Suicide isn’t something that is spoken about very often and is kind of a ‘hush hush’ topic,” Rough said. “Personally, I’ve never lost anyone to suicide, but I know a lot of people that have suffered through mental illness and depression and I think this is something that needs to be addressed more often and be spoken about. For us to be able to take this step to do that is an awesome opportunity.”
Karen McLaurin, organizer for the Ann Arbor Out of the Darkness Walk for the past five years, has been a participant for the last 10 years after she was personally affected by suicide with the loss of her nephew. She described the walk as not only a method of fundraising and awareness but as a place for healing.
“I came to the first walk and there were hundreds of people with the same moods and feelings that I didn’t know how to express,” McLaurin said. “That’s kind of what this is for, it’s a place for healing and a place for education.”
The route for the walk was more centrally located this year due to its new starting location in West Park, and McLaurin was happy the two-and-a-half-mile route would lead them through downtown Ann Arbor.
“This year we’re walking downtown, which will increase our exposure with more people seeing us and our signs and shirts,” McLaurin said. “We’re giving a voice to suicide.”
The registration period for the walk was between 9 and 11 a.m. Saturday morning, during which there were tents and activities occurring around West Park. Booths were distributing information about suicide and mental health, with many University facilities represented including Michigan Medicine and the University of Michigan Depression Center.
At 11 a.m., prior to the start of the walk, event organizers Patricia Wheeler and Karen McLaurin, along with keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-MI, spoke to the crowd.
Dingell emphasized the importance of discussing the topic of suicide both at the local and national level.
“We for too long in this country have not wanted to talk about mental health issues,” Dingell said. “We need to, in this country, remove the stigma of people talking about how they feel.”
Following the speeches the walk began, lead by members of the Donna Lloyd Memorial Team that raised nearly $10,000 for the Out of the Darkness Walk. Walkers made their way through downtown Ann Arbor, returning to the starting point at West Park after completing the 2.5-mile route.