Bringing Ann Arbor Out of The Darkness

Ebba Gurney
Sign at Ann Arbor’s Out of the Darkness walk on Sept. 23, 2017.

Under the bright sun and clear blue skies on the morning of Sept. 23, 2017, suicide loss survivors gathered in Ann Arbor’s West Park ready to walk two-and-a-half miles to bring awareness to suicide prevention.

Parents, partners, children, siblings, family members, and friends of suicide victims, along with people with personal struggles and supporters of the issue, stood in West Park in the 92 degree heat, waiting for the walk to start at 11:00 a.m.

After checking in, each participant had the option to fill out a tag that declared why they were walking. Some put names of family members and friends, some put the names of organizations, and some wrote that they were walking for their own health.

A variety of tents and activities were scattered around the bandshell area, including a rock painting station and a memory board. A rack of beaded necklaces stood near the middle of the area, where participants could choose necklaces that had specific colors that explained their reasons for walking.

“I’m walking because our family lost someone to suicide–unfortunately, just a handful of months ago–that had a really significant impact on our family and our community,” Diana Quinn, Ann Arbor resident, said. Quinn works as a care provider, helping people with mental health struggles every day in her professional life.

As it neared 11:00 a.m. and larger amounts of people started arriving at the bandshell area, the music got louder and the speakers started preparing their speeches. One of the speakers was Patricia Wheeler, the chair of Ann Arbor’s Out of the Darkness walk. Wheeler was familiarized with the type of resources that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers after her fiancé, Paul, died by suicide 12 years ago.

“I get to honor Paul’s memory by helping other people through the experiences and hopefully helping to show folks that they’re not alone,” Wheeler said.

Representative Debbie Dingell took to the bandshell stage with a powerful speech about mental health issues and the importance of awareness. “We need to, in this country, remove the stigma of people talking about how they feel,” Dingell said.

After a list of loved ones lost to suicide by the participants in the walk was read and a moment of silence was given, the walk was almost ready to begin. Once the top fundraising individual and team were announced, walkers started gathering in a long line and began leaving West Park up the walkway lined with rocks that people had painted.

Soon after, the hundreds of suicide loss survivors began the two-and-a-half mile loop up Miller Ave. to State St. and back to West Park on Washington St.

For some, the walk took over an hour, but volunteers cheered as walkers returned to the bandshell. Some participants cried, truly showing how much this walk meant to them.

“I really appreciate [the walk],” Roxie Richner, 15, said. “It is spreading awareness to something that isn’t really talked about, and I think it’s really important.”

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, over 44,000 Americans die by suicide every year.

Sophia Gibson, 17, has struggled with mental health and suicidal thoughts. If someone was struggling with suicidal thoughts or the loss of someone to suicide, “I would just tell them, I’m so happy now,” she said. “You can find joy and you can be happy again, and it’s out there. You just need to keep struggling.”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has been holding these Out of the Darkness walks nationwide since 2004, raising money to reach their goal of lowering the annual suicide rate 20 percent by the year 2025. Around 250,000 people will walk across the country this fall to help AFSP bring awareness and reach their goal.

So far, the Ann Arbor walk has raised over $50,000. All of the money raised is used for suicide research and to educate communities about suicide prevention; 50 percent of funds stay in the local community.

If you experience suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

You are not alone.