Out of the Darkness Chicagoland Walk Raises Awareness, Funds for Suicide Prevention

alt text By Kay Yang, Reporter, The Real Chi

Thousands gathered at Montrose Harbour at 11am on Sept 21 to participate in the Out of the Darkness Chicagoland’s Walk, joining a nationwide movement organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that seek to promote awareness and raise funds for suicide prevention.

The walk looped around a central campground near Lake Michigan, where various tents and kiosks had been set up to provide services and activities. Those included donation spots, merchandise outlets, tents that offered mental health services and educational pamphlets, as well as amenities like comfort dogs, face-painting and temporary tattoos.

Participants walked independently or as members of small teams, the latter often organized in honor of a friend or family member lost to suicide. Honor Beads, beaded necklaces in a variety of colors, were provided free-of-charge at the place of the event. Each color showed a different personal connection to suicide prevention, including loss of immediate family members, loss of a friend or relative, a personal struggle or attempt, and many more. 

Also located on the central campground were the Memorial Wall, where participants could put up photos and personal messages in memory of a friend or family member who commited suicide, and the Why I Walk Wall, where participants could write out their personal reasons for attending the walk.

The organizer of Out of the Darkness Walks, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), is a 501(c)(3)-determined nonprofit organization with local chapters all over the nation, as well as the largest private funder of suicide prevention research. The Illinois chapter organizes Out of the Darkness Walks throughout the state, with Chicago being one of the major hotspots: both 2018 and 2019’s Chicagoland Walks raised around $1 million dollars, and both saw turnouts of more than 7000 participants. 

Like many other US states, Illinois has witnessed increased suicide rates in the past decade. Within the state, the age-adjusted number of deaths due to intentional self-harm per 100,000 population had risen from 9.2 in 2012 to 11.0 in 2018, according to annual reports from the United Health Foundation. AFSP’s 2019 State Fact Sheet puts the number at 11.19, making suicide one of the top five leading causes of death for Illinois residents aged 15-54, and the 3rd leading cause of death for those aged 15-34. 

AFSP operates under the mission statement of “saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide and mental health conditions”. Their ambitious initiative, “Project 2025”, aims to facilitate a 20% reduction in the annual rate of suicide in the U.S. by 2025. Aside from Out of Darkness Walks, AFSP also provides educational programs, volunteer opportunities, and research grants.