By ELLINOR COUCHMAN
Tiger Media Network
After a week of dreary weather, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention brightened up Hays. The seventh annual Out of the Darkness walk took place last Saturday at North Frontier Park. Participants walked a mile through downtown and donated proceeds to AFSD. It’s the only event of its kind in Northwestern Kansas, and for event coordinator Ashton Gebhard, that’s part of the problem.
“My initial thought process was ‘a rural area wanting to deal with farm and rural suicide’ because it’s a significant issue farmers deal with… even though they often don’t want to admit it,” he said.
Clinical depression runs in Gebhard’s family. Although farming near Long Island, Kansas provides a reprieve, he still hopes to facilitate tighter community support in rural America.
“I lost a cousin to suicide, and that was kinda the impetus where I was living in Omaha at the time and got involved in the AFSP there,” he said.
The event saw several dozen attendants – often representing “teams” for donation sums. The most prolific team, Remembering Matt “Article” Kraft, raised over $1,200 for AFSD. For other attendants, like psychology student Isabella Kester, walking was simply a matter of solidarity.
“It’s just important to me that people know that they’re cared about and that they’re not alone in going through that kind of stuff,” she said. “We didn’t have anything like this back home. [I] grew up in a small town, so there was not really advocacy or anything like that.”
Out of the Darkness also raised money from sponsors. One such sponsor, Thunder on the Plains, flanked the event’s walking route with a simultaneous car show. Although the scenery made for an interesting contrast, Gebhard is no stranger to the jovial tone.
“The Kansas chapter chairperson is in Kansas City, so we get a lot of information about their walk,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of different organizations that will have tables at their events, so we try to think, ‘Well, what is something in that realm that’s available out here?'”
By Saturday’s end, Out of the Darkness raised nearly $4000 for AFSD. Regardless of donations though, Gebhard still emphasizes the power of personal connections – no matter where someone is on their mental health journey.
“It almost sounds cliche, but meeting them where they are at, and recognizing that maybe they aren’t ready to take that next step and admit to it, but you just have to be there for them in the moment they need someone,” he said.
*DISCLAIMER: THE AUTHOR OF THIS ARTICLE DONATED $20 TO THE EVENT*