Out of the Darkness casts light on issue of suicide

Photo by Wayne Towner Karen Anderson, of Vincent, signs the “Be the Voice” display Saturday at the 10th annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk at City Park in Parkersburg.

PARKERSBURG — About 500 people affected in one way or another by the issue of suicide gathered Saturday morning at City Park in Parkersburg for the 10th annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk.

The goal of the event is to raise awareness of depression and suicide. The annual walk is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a non-profit organization dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education, advocacy and support.

Dr. Heather McCarter, the event organizer, said to mark this year’s 10th anniversary organizers added a “Be the Voice” message board where people could write messages during Saturday’s program. McCarter said they hope to have it displayed at a local venue within the community in the near future.

The walk’s resource tent was also expanded this year to provide more information and materials on suicide awareness and mental health issues, she said.

The walkers could wear honor beads to represent the relationship of the person lost to suicide or their personal battle. The colors were: white (loss of child); red (loss of spouse/partner); orange (loss of sibling); purple (loss of family member/friend); silver (loss of military/first responder); blue (support of the AFSP suicide prevention cause); green (for those who personally struggle; and teal (for those with a lived experience).

Photo by Wayne Towner About 500 people participated Saturday in the 10th annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk at City Park in Parkersburg.

As part of Saturday’s opening ceremony, an honor beads program outlined what each color meant and included the personal experiences of someone associated with that color. The walkers then did two laps through City Park before returning to the starting point at the park bandshell for the closing ceremonies and a balloon release.

Dr. Libby Powers, of Parkersburg, organized the first Out of Darkness Walk a decade ago after losing her sister, Rebecca Herriott, to suicide in 2007. Later, McCarter took over organizing the event and it has grown each year in terms of participation and donations, Powers said.

“It’s grown by leaps and bounds,” Powers said.

“It’s been amazing to have the outpouring of support. I think with time and the more we are talking about it, the more we are able to decrease the stigma associated with mental illness in general and depression and the other illnesses that lead to suicide,” she said.

Michelle Toman is co-founder with McCarter of the West Virginia chapter of AFSP, which she currently chairs. The local chapter is in its third year, having been officially formed just prior to the 2015 walk.

Photo by Wayne Towner Volunteer Susan Gainer, of Washington, W.Va., works to prepare balloons for the final balloon release ending Saturday’s 10th annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk at City Park in Parkersburg.

“AFSP is the leader in the fight against suicide,” Toman said. “We’re a volunteer-based health organization that gives individuals who bring whatever their experience is to this cause, to help in the fight against suicide and for mental health awareness. It gives people with any kind of lived experience a global platform to do something good with maybe their something awful,” she said.

Information and resources are available at www.afsp.org, at the national suicide prevention lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) and the crisis text line by texting TALK to 741741.

“They are staffed by trained counselors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” Toman said.