Walk shines light on suicide prevention

Out of the Darkness event set for Sunday

Suicide is the 10th leading case of death in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 47,500 people in 2019, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

To raise awareness of suicide risks and to support prevention programs, more than 200 people will take part in the 11th annual Out of the Darkness Blair County Community Walk on Sunday at Lakemont Park.

The walk is also a way for those who have lost a loved one to suicide to support each other, organizers said, noting the event is being held in conjunction with Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Events at the park will begin at 11:30 a.m. and conclude at 2:30 p.m. with a candlelight memorial to honor suicide victims and their families.

The event is free and open to the public and will feature vendor tables displaying information about suicide prevention and awareness, said event chair Cindy James. There will also be child-friendly activities such as cupcake decorating, cornhole, chalk drawing and goodie bags.

“With COVID cases going up, we’re very limited with what activities we can offer,” James said.

In addition to activities, there will be an assortment of food trucks in attendance and prizes to be raffled off.

The walk itself kicks off at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Participants are invited to choose colored beads to show their connection to suicide — white beads represent the loss of a child to suicide; red, the loss of a spouse or partner; gold, a parent; orange, a sibling; purple, a relative or friend; silver, a first responder or military member; green, a personal struggle or attempt; teal, support for someone who has struggled or attempted; and navy, support of suicide prevention.

The beads selected by Mary Jo McConnell and her husband are always white.

On Sept. 30, 2004, their son, Johnny Mac, committed suicide at the age of 30. Ever since that heartbreaking day, the McConnells have walked in support of the American Society for Suicide Prevention. This year they put together a small team.

“It’s an opportunity for people who have lost someone to suicide to gain support for others,” McConnell said. “We walk for our loved ones.”

This is the first year McConnell hasn’t been on the committee for the community walk, but she said she will never give up the Suicide Prevention Task Force. These events, programs and groups are important because it helps people learn what the signs of suicide are, McConnell said.

“Saving lives is what it’s about,” she said. “There are a lot of people all over the country who work in suicide prevention who have lost someone.”

All donations raised during the event will go to the American Society for Suicide Prevention. Half of those funds will go toward national research into suicide and the formulating of prevention programs, while the other half will go toward local efforts of the same nature.

Participants from the 28 registered teams have already raised nearly $18,000 of the $20,000 goal.

“We have a lot of suicide prevention and education programs that we can bring into the county because of this walk,” James said.

The walk is also giving back to the community this year, as a tree is being donated to Lakemont Park.

“We’re giving the tree to the park with a plaque in remembrance of those we have lost to suicide,” James said.

Mirror Staff Writer Rachel Foor is at 814-946-7458.


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