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13th Annual Out of Darkness Walk held Saturday

Photos by Jenna Pierson Participants circled around the City Park Pond on Saturday afternoon to raise awareness for suicide and mental health.

PARKERSBURG — Over 250 people united on Saturday afternoon to raise awareness for suicide, which is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The 13th annual Mid-Ohio Valley Out of Darkness Walk was held at City Park for members of the community to come together and raise money and awareness for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP.)

Despite Coronavirus, the walk was still able to occur due to it being held in an open air location and participants were asked to social distance as much as possible. The event usually has booths set up with different mental health resources available in the Mid-Ohio Valley, but this year these resources were distributed in packets to reduce person-to-person contact in light of Coronavirus.

“With COVID we weren’t sure we would even be able to do anything this year, but people need today and people need to come together and be with one another because the more of us that carry each other the easier it is,” said Jason Ferrebee, the co-coordinator of the event and representative for the West Virginia chapter of the AFSP.

Those who have lost loved ones to suicide, those who have struggled with their own attempts, and other mental health allies came together and proudly displayed signs of encouragement that read ‘There is Hope’ and ‘Your Story Isn’t Over.’

Participants came in groups to represent different loved ones and held a wide variety of picket signs.

“We joke and say we are the happiest sad people,” said Ferrebee. “We are all here because of loss or lived experience.”

Ferrebee was inspired to become passionate about the cause after he lost his father to suicide in 1994 and one of his best friends in 2007.

“It’s a way to remember their lives and stay connected,” Ferrebee said. “I wish I didn’t qualify to be here but I’ve gained a lot from the AFSP…it has healed me and given me courage.”

Ferrebee has helped organize the walk for nine years and describes himself as the right hand for fellow co-coordinator Dr. Heather McCarter.

McCarter lost her sister 15 years ago to suicide, which inspired her to take up the cause.

Participants were able to wear different color coded beads in memory of lost loved ones during the walk.

“Our main goal is to reduce the stigma and to continue to open the minds of people through encouraging conversations and communication and non-judgement,” McCarter said. “What’s important to me is that we can gather the community in order to support each other in journeys with loss by suicide and also to support those who suffer from mental illness or depression and anxiety.”

The walk began with stories shared from different participants and volunteers who have lost loved ones to suicide and different bead colors signified different types of loss, varying from parents to children and even law personnel.

“My father, David Boyles, was a Parkersburg Police Officer who took his own life here in City Park in 1995,” said participant Ryan Patterson. “I just like hearing the stories because they are all different, but there are also so many similarities and there’s so many ways we can bring awareness to healing processes for this.”

Survivors also came to celebrate their strength and resilience with the support of family members, friends and even therapists.

“I’ve suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder my entire life because my childhood and the first time I tried to commit suicide I was ten years old,” said Jackie Scott, who is in her seventh year of participation and fifth year of volunteering. “Being a part of AFSP has been the best thing, because you come here and you see all these people who care so much because they’ve lost somebody.”

The Out of Darkness Walk commenced at the City Park Bandshell with speeches from coordinator Dr. Heather McCarter and various participants.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 48,344 Americans died by suicide in 2018.

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act was recently passed in Congress and is expected to take effect in 2022. A new number, 988, can be used in lieu of 911 for mental health emergencies so specific personnel can be dispatched to handle the situation as delicately and appropriately as possible.

According to Ferrebee, West Virginia has consistently been 10th in the country for suicide per capita.

“For our community right now with poverty levels and the opioid crisis this is important because there is definitely a correlation between drug use and suicide,” Ferrebee said. “The same hurt fuels a lot of things.”

The money raised will be put towards research, advocacy and education. Interventionist trainings and suicide prevention workshops are also funded through this event for the community, according to Ferrebee. Last year, the event raised over $60,000.

“I encourage people to reach out and don’t try to deal with things alone,” Ferrebee said. ‘None of us can do it alone.”

Jenna can be reached at jpierson@newsandsentinel.com

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