More than a hundred UA Little Rock students, family members and friends from the Little Rock community braved the cold Saturday afternoon for the university’s first-ever Out of the Darkness Walk, supporting those who struggle with mental health and remembering those who lost their lives to suicide.
The Out of the Darkness Walk is an event held by The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to spread awareness for mental health and suicide prevention.
“The event is to bring awareness to the college campus about the serious threat that is suicide,” said Mike Kirk, the director of Counseling Services at UA Little Rock. “It’s also to promote health-seeking behaviors. We want people to be able to open up and talk about their struggles. A walk like this that is specifically for suicide prevention is a way for us to encourage people to talk about suicide and to bring up emotional issues to let people know that it is okay to talk about.”
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and, according to AFSP, 44,965 die annually from suicide. The foundation also says for every person that dies from suicide, 25 others attempt it. 555 Arkansans died due to suicide in 2016 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“What AFSP is doing will help me better understand and better help those in need,” Kirk said. “As a mental health professional, I have people come in weekly who deal with suicide. Often times I wonder if I know enough, if I am well versed enough and if I have enough energy to help them get past the particular struggle in their life.”
The Out of the Darkness Walk started in 2014 and in that year, only 24 walks took place with an estimated 4000 people attending them nationally. In 2017, the number rose to 415 different walks with over 250,000 participants. The number for 2018 is expected to increase.
“I am very, very shocked that this many people came out in the numbers that they did, especially in this weather,” said Danna Wolters. “It means the world that so many people came out today.”
Wolters, a UA Little Rock Grad Student and one the event’s organizers, has a personal experience with suicide and mental health. In 1990, her then 83-year-old grandfather lost his life to suicide. Since then, she has lost a cousin to suicide, had four friends who have lost children to suicide, and has a child that struggles with mental health.
“My family never really processed it, we didn’t talk about it a lot which is something I’m advocating to change in all families across the nation,” Wolters said. “This is a really important issue, not just for suicide but mental health in general.”
All the money raised at the walks across the country go towards AFSP and their policies on research, outreach programs and education on mental health and suicide.
“We may all be here for different reasons,” UA Little Rock Chancellor Andrew Rogerson said. “Loss, personal struggle, supporting a loved one or maybe something else, but we all share the same goal: to save lives and bring hope to those who have been affected by suicide and to those who may be struggling today. Please know that you are not alone and always remember that although suicide is a leading cause of death, it is preventable.”
This was UA Little Rock’s first year participating in the walk and they plan on participating n the years to come.