In this article, losing someone to suicide and suicide prevention are mentioned. If you are struggling with your mental health, please reach out and call the National Mental Health Crisis Hotline at 988.
INDIANAPOLIS — In 2006, Indiana had its first "Out of the Darkness" community walk in Indianapolis. It had about 150 walkers and raised nearly $5,000 for suicide prevention.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) started organizing Out of the Darkness walks in 2004 as a way for people to physically come together and open up about their connections to suicide, grief, and mental health struggles in their community.
Now, 16 years later, the Indiana Chapter of AFSP organizes 10 more Out of the Darkness walks across the state. On Saturday, September 10, AFSP is anticipating about 4,000 walkers at the Indianapolis Out of the Darkness walk, with a projected $400,000 in funds raised for suicide prevention.
Kelsey Aaron, the AFSP Indiana executive director, tells WRTV that the evident growth in participation is also indicative of how grief and mental health are becoming less of a challenge to talk about openly.
"I think sharing your story allows someone else to know that it's OK to share theirs. It might not be the same, but if it's a suicide loss, it's different than a lot of other losses," Aaron said. "So, being able to connect with other people who've been impacted directly by suicide is a way to just find a new way to honor and love your individuals that you've lost by suicide, while also creating new memories and knowing that it's OK to still move forward and find ways to honor their memory."
Aaron lost her father to suicide in 2001. It was in 2016 when she realized her family didn't talk about it, and she found AFSP as a resource.
Now, Aaron's entire family is involved with AFSP in different capacities.
"One of the reasons we picked AFSP is because it's evidence-informed and evidence-based (as) the largest funder of suicide prevention research," Aaron said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Data & Statistics Fatal Injury Report for 2020, there were an estimated 1.20 million suicide attempts in the United States, and 45,979 Americans died by suicide. According to AFSP, suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S., with the rate of suicide being highest in middle-aged white men.
Brandon Puszkiewicz, a longtime volunteer with the Indiana AFSP and now a staff member, says he started to get involved with AFSP in 2010 when a friend lost a teammate to suicide.
"Being a volunteer and being involved for 10 plus years, I've really seen how AFSP has kind of started and how it's grown in that time," Puszkiewicz said. "They've always just kept, you know, their volunteers and their mission at the forefront of what they're doing. And I think that's really important."
For the last 12 years, Puszkiewicz has also seen how much the Out of the Darkness walks have impacted Hoosiers and entire communities. He says this single event serves several purposes.
"I think it's a place for people to come and connect with others who have either suffered themselves or struggled themselves, or have had family members or friends that have struggled, or that they've lost to suicide. So it's a great way for other people to see that they're not alone in this kind of grief journey," Puszkiewicz started.
"I also think that it's important because it shows communities and society that this is not something that we only need to talk about behind closed doors. This is something we can bring out in public and talk about, it's not something that needs to be taboo. It can be something that can still be a really hopeful, beautiful event."
Aaron says the Out of the Darkness walks are for everyone, for any reason. The event is family-friendly and has a lot of moving parts.
"We have people who travel from the southern part of the state, the northern part of the state, and all come together," Aaron said.
Puszkiewicz says the Out of the Darkness walk is also a great first event for people who are unsure how to deal with their own mental health, including those who haven't thought of suicide but still struggle with depression.
"I think mental health is just like ... a kind of, like, a spectrum, a continuum," Puszkiewicz said. "Everybody's story is a little bit different. Just because you say you struggle with your mental health doesn't mean that you necessarily thought about suicide, but that you might have kind of had a period in your life that was a little bit darker, that you might have struggled a little bit."
On Saturday, Sept. 10, the Out of the Darkness walk starts at the White River State Park Celebration Plaza at 1:30 p.m. with an Honor Bead ceremony. At 2:30 p.m., the opening ceremony begins. By 3 p.m., the walk commences.
If you are interested in learning more about AFSP and the Out of the Darkness walks, visit afsp.org. It's free to sign up and create a team for any of the Out of the Darkness walks in the country.
WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.