Making strides against suicide

by Christine Whitman, Staff Writer

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This past Saturday, the San Diego chapter of The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention held their annual Out of Darkness Community Walk at the Embarcadero North in downtown to celebrate life, remember the lost and honor the cause. AFSP is the nation’s largest not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding suicide through research, education, outreach and advocacy.

Volunteers arrived as early as 4:30 a.m. to start event preparation and left at 2 p.m.

“No one complains,” San Diego Chapter Board President Amanda Gutierrez said. “Everyone has a great attitude and we are so grateful on the fantastic job done logistically in allowing the board members to be present for the survivors and for any one that needed support on that day.”

This year Gutierrez served as social media chair of the event, coordinating event coverage on television, radio, print and social media.

This year’s event had a record high of 2,000 registered walkers, and raised a total of $107,000 for the cause. The resource fair followed the walker check-in at 8:30 a.m., which was a collection of tables provided by local businesses to inform participants about upcoming events and local connection programs.

Among these tables was another area for survivors walking at the event to pick up specific color-coordinated beads that signified that individual’s particular connection to the cause whether it be the loss of a family member, friend or through personal experience. Since everything was color-coordinated, it was easier to connect with others in the crowd that shared the same loss or personal struggle. One of the most emotional things at the resource fair was the remembrance tent, where participants were able to share memories of their loved ones with other walkers. The amount of photos and written descriptions provided by walkers during the event truly showed how many friends and family members are lost to suicide each year.

After the opening ceremonies, participants began the 5k community walk. Melissa d’Arabian was chosen once again as this year’s walk host. The Food Network star has been hosted the Out of Darkness Community Walk twice.

“She was personally impacted by her mother who died by suicide several years ago,” Gutierrez said.

During the 5k, participants have the opportunity to talk with others about their experiences and loss of loved ones to suicide.

“Each year I walk alongside the thousands of walkers and allow them to tell me their stories,” Gutierrez said. “I feel deeply saddened when I look into our sea of participants and see so many beautiful faces of lost loved ones on the back of t-shirts and walk signs. I am touched by all of the survivors, stories and sadness which continues to move me to keep supporting this cause.”

Around noon when the walk route closed and all participants had finished, doves were released into the air.

“The doves symbolize release, freedom and peace,” Gutierrez said. “Some religious ceremonies use doves as a way to symbolize the passing from this life to the next.”

For AFSP, the walkers are encouraged to pick a dove and imagine it’s the loved one they have lost.

“It helps us to remember that our loved ones are still with us each day,” Gutierrez said. “The releasing of the doves also allows participants to be set free, to let go of any guilt or anger that they may have, and to finally take steps to move forward and feel empowered.”

Many participants displayed different emotions throughout the walk — but the one most commonly shown was sadness.

According to the Suicide Awareness and Voices of Education Organization nearly 40,000 Americans die every year from suicide. AFSP is tirelessly working to lessen this statistic through research, education, outreach and advocacy.

International Survivors of Suicide Day is Nov. 22, at the University of San Diego. More information can be found at www.afsp.org.

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