More than 500 people attended the Out of the Darkness Community Walk to promote suicide prevention and awareness in 2018. Organizers are hoping for even bigger attendance at 2019’s walk on Sept. 14.

More than 500 people attended the Out of the Darkness Community Walk to promote suicide prevention and awareness in 2018. Organizers are hoping for even bigger attendance at 2019’s walk on Sept. 14.

Photo provided by Lisa Matway


Community walk to raise money for suicide prevention

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published September 4, 2019

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Suicide is a topic that affects millions of families and can be one that people do not want to talk about. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is working to change that.

Each year, the organization hosts suicide prevention walks across the country to raise money to educate people on the subject, spread awareness and fund research. One such walk, known as the Out of the Darkness Community Walk, will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at Eastwood Beach in Stony Creek Metropark, located at 4300 Main Park Drive in Shelby Township.

Reid Depowski, an AFSP Michigan Chapter board member, outpatient clinical social worker and psychotherapist, said the topic of suicide is one that needs to be addressed immediately, because lives are in the balance.

“There are several problems contributing to our increasing suicide rate, and for me, the two primary problems are stigma and a lack of education,” Depowski said in an email. “People are embarrassed to struggle with their mental health, and feel especially ashamed to admit that they are thinking of killing themselves, so they (aren’t) openly discussing their thoughts with others. People who become suicidal also often feel as though they are burdensome to their loved ones, so they do not share about their plights to prevent burdening those around them, in their eyes. Additionally, we have a lack of education about what suicidal risk is, what the warning signs are, and how to intervene with loved ones, coworkers, students, etc. when these warning signs are recognized.”

Lisa Matway, an AFSP Michigan Chapter board member and co-chair of the walk, said such walks not only raise money to prevent suicide, but also provide community and catharsis to those who have lost loved ones to suicide or those who have attempted suicide themselves.

“We do these walks and they are held all over the nation through September and October,” she said. “The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a volunteer organization, and this is our primary fundraiser. The Macomb County Community Mental Health Department will be there, and people will be on hand to provide counseling and support. It is really a celebration of life to honor those who have passed and share lived experience, particularly from those who have struggled with suicide or suicidal thoughts themselves.”

Matway said there will be remembrance tents where people can display photos of loved ones and a hope tent where people can share messages of hope and make some crafts.

The 2018 Out of the Darkness Community Walk raised more than $100,000 and had more than 500 participants.

Matway said she found the group after her brother died from suicide in 2010. She said the event is centrally located between Oakland and Macomb counties, giving residents of both an opportunity to participate.

The route is 3 miles long and registration will open at 9 a.m. The opening ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. Organizers expect to be finished by 1:30 p.m. The route is a loop starting and ending at the beach, and food trucks will be on-site as well.

“You can register up until the morning of the event,” said Matway. “Online registration closes the night before. There is no minimum amount of funds that people can donate.”

For more information, visit afsp.org/rochestermi or call (586) 419-0384.

The funds raised will be used in a variety of ways to inform the public about suicide and its causes and to support research.

“We use the money in local training and education programs,” Matway explained. “The money goes back into communities in educational programs such as programs for college students, instructional events for educators, we educate police departments on gun safety and so forth. We talk to the media about responsible reporting. The money also goes into national causes such as research. We never do anything without research and advocacy.”

She added that the research made possible from these walks is having results.

“What we are learning is not everyone who suffers from mental illness can be treated in the same way,” Matway continued. “We are seeing that depending on the individual’s brain chemistry and life experiences, a certain medication may work for one person and not another, or a certain method of treatment may work for one person and not another.”

Besides research, Matway said the hope is that by bringing the issue to the forefront, more people will seek help for the mental health issues that may be leading them to attempt suicide.

“We also want to reduce the stigma. If someone had heart disease, you wouldn’t hesitate to take some medication and get treatment from a professional,” she said. “We want to show people they should be treating mental illness in the same way.”

Professionals say there are many things people can look for to determine if someone they know may be at risk.

“There are several warning signs, and these will look different person to person depending on their circumstances. However, we have come to understand warning signs through three primary categories: talk, mood, and behavior,” wrote Depowski. “Many in the field describe the culmination of risk and warning factors to create ‘the perfect storm’ for someone to be susceptible to experiencing suicidal thoughts, as you are not inherently more likely to die by suicide just by having depression, however this is certainly a strong risk factor, and many of those who die by suicide are diagnosed with depression.”

She also suggested people look at the AFSP’s page afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs to learn more.

People do not have to do the actual walk to participate.

“People can come and talk or meet with our resources without having to walk,” she said. “People can donate financially, and we are always looking for volunteers. People can raise funds by being a virtual walker who registers online and can raise funds separately if they can’t take part in the walking event.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at (800) 273-8255.

Call Staff Writer Brendan Losinski at (586) 498-1068.