Annual suicide prevention event set for Friday

Photo courtesy Supporting American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

In addition to raising money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the annual Out of the Darkness Walk is a way to raise awareness and decrease the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health issues.

In Hays, the Out of the Darkness Walk is organized by the AFSP Kansas City chapter and sponsored by the High Plains Mental Health Center. Starting at 2:00 p.m. on Friday in Municipal Park, participants will walk down Main Street, past HPMHC on 7th Street, and back to the park. Money raised from the event will benefit the AFSP, specifically for education efforts.

“That includes trainings and community events that help promote suicide prevention, help people understand how to supports others experiencing suicidal ideation, or ways individuals can help themselves,” said event organizer Kyle Carlin.

This is the sixth Walk to happen in Hays. According to Carlin, his co-organizer Ashton Gebhard became inspired to bring the event to western Kansas after participating in several in Omaha, NE, specifically to help combat suicide in rural, agricultural areas.

“The number of farmers and agriculture workers who have died by suicide or have attempted suicide is quite a bit higher than the national average,” Carlin said. “Wanting to bring more attention and awareness to the issue, [Gebhard] reached out to me about helping organize the walk. Each year it seems to get a little bit bigger, and hopefully it brings more awareness.”

Check-in and walk-up registration for the event will take place from 1-2:00 p.m. Former FHSU President Ed Hammond will give a welcome message before the walk starts. After the walk, participants will have a chance to light memorial candles and grab Honor Beads.

“Participants can represent the different ways they’re connected to suicide prevention through different colored beads,” Carlin said. “There’s beads for their own journey, if they’ve lost a loved one, etc. There’s about ten different colors, and each represents something a little different.”

Vendors from HPMHC, Green Ribbon Hays, and more will also be present at the event. The afternoon will end with a raffle, which helps generate more funds for the AFSP.

“It’s a good time for people to have a sense of community,” Carlin said. “A lot of people use this as a way to have a group of friends or family come together and connect, and spend the day together in memory of somebody or in honor of their own struggle.”

For Carlin, the Walk is also important when it comes to decreasing the stigma surrounding suicide. 

“Even getting people to say the word suicide out loud can be a struggle sometimes, it seems like people feel there’s a taboo towards that word,” he said. “But getting people to talk about it, getting people to see that they’re not alone, and helping them realize there’s answers and they don’t have to live with it forever, makes the whole community better.”

To register for the Walk on Friday, or to donate money, visit the Hays Area Walk website.

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