Out of the Darkness Community Walk raises awareness for suicide prevention

PARKERSBURG – Those who have lost loved ones to depression and other mental health issues joined forces on Saturday for the sixth annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk in City Park.

Between 150 and 200 people participated in the event, which not only included a walk around the park, but also information to help those who are or know those who are suffering.

“There is always hope to reach out to the community, educate and support,” said Dr. Heather McCarter, walk coordinator.

For the first time, the walk had a military presence with representatives from the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, the Parkersburg VA outstation and the Army National Guard in Parkersburg. The booths included information for veterans and their families on post-traumatic stress, depression, suicide and other issues relating to war and military service.

“In the military, veterans won’t talk to anyone but another veteran,” said Bill Pierce with the Vet Center mobile unit from the Department of Veterans Affairs. “It is important veterans and their families know there is always hope and through reaching out to the community and educating others, we are able to offer the support needed.”

It is important to reach out to those suffering mental health issues in the military because 20 percent of all suicide deaths are military-related, McCarter said.

“The counseling we offer helps vets and their families to deal with issues they think they don’t have,” Pierce said.

Saturday’s walk was designed to raise awareness about the warning signs of suicide and to offer support to family, friends and loved ones who have lost someone to suicide. The event raises money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“We can help guide people to help,” McCarter said.

The Rev. Gary Nelson, pastor and pastoral counselor, spoke about depression and how to help those who feel there is no way out.

“I come at this from a couple of different directions,” Nelson told the crowd. “From the clinical therapist direction and as a parent.”

Nelson wrote the book, “A Relentless Hope: Surviving The Storm of Teen Depression,” after his son Tom Nelson attempted suicide.

“The greatest gift you can give anyone is your presence,” Nelson added. “Suicide is an epidemic and we are here to help those who need it.”

Walk participants also released 100 colorful balloons with messages to those who have been lost to suicide.

In the past the walk has released butterflies and doves. This year’s balloons were in honor of McCarter’s sister, Jennifer McCarter Verdill of Parkersburg, who died by suicide in December 2005.

“I chose today for the walk because it would be my sister’s 35th birthday,” McCarter said. “This year we are sending up balloons for her birthday.”