Monday, October 20, 2014

Out Of The Darkness Walk

Photos by OHventures and Jeremy Wadian Photography

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States - and it is 100% preventable.

A staggering 38,000 individuals take their own life each year in the United States - and over 1 million worldwide. Depression, anxiety, mental illness, alcohol & drug abuse, and the pressures & stresses of everyday life are all contributing factors that lead to suicide. But research, education, and communication are all ways that we can help save lives and create a world without suicide.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has done remarkable work in the fight against this terrible affliction that has affected so many lives. Its keynote event each year is the Out of the Darkness Community Walk series, which take place in various cities all across the country. The walks symbolize walking out of the darkness of mental anguish and into an eternal life of peace. The AFSP's logo - a life preserver - reinforces this statement by signifying the support of loved ones rescuing those in despair.

There are numerous Out of the Darkness Community Walks throughout Ohio, including: Marietta, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Youngstown, and right here in my own neighborhood of North Canton.

My family banded together on Sunday, October 5, 2014, for the Northern Ohio Chapter of AFSP's very first Out Of The Darkness Community Walk at the Hoover Vikings Stadium in North Canton. Sadly, like far too  many families, my own family has experienced the horror and pain that comes with losing a loved one to suicide. My cousin took his own life in the year 2000 at the age of 18. It is heart-wrenching to know that he was feeling so much inner turmoil and sadness - a feeling we can never understand. Knowing this bright young man I called my cousin had gone way too soon, I knew we had to take part in this event to make our voices loud and proud in hopes that we can save others.

I created Team Forever For Evan to honor my cousin. The team consisted of myself, my mom, dad, two aunts, two cousins, one uncle, and two second cousins. We all wore medals with my cousin's photo on them (much like the medals we wore for my grandfather in the Alzheimer's walk), and we wore honor beads provided at the site. The beads were all different colors, each representing a different relationship to the disease. I wore blue (which shows support for the cause), and purple (for having lost a relative). Other colors were orange (for a sibiling), white (for a child), etc. 

Team Forever For Evan was just one of many dozens of teams that showed up that chilly afternoon. There were over 400 walkers gathered in the stadium! Some were wearing matching shirts, others were carrying signs and photos, and all were there to help address this terrible issue we face in society.

We heard speeches from the race organizers,stories from families personally affected from suicide, a prayer from a local pastor, and a message from the mayor of North Canton. Then, it was time to release yellow and blue balloons into the air to honor those we've lost. Before we walked, we also took part in a yoga demonstration on the football field. The yoga was especially important because not only does it help physically by stretching and strengthening, but it also helps mentally.

Walkers were then free to walk the track around the field as many times as they liked! There was uplifting music and loads of snacks, such as hot dogs and hot chocolate to warm us up.

It was announced during the event that the goal of $10,000 was far exceeded and that collectively, over $28,000 was raised for the cause!!

We were in awe at the amount of money raised and so thankful that so many others were so giving to Team Forever For Evan and all of the other groups represented that day. Life is precious and it's one big adventure - everyone deserves to enjoy life it its fullest. Consider helping the AFSP by participating in a walk or donating individually.

If you or someone you know are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255

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