Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk set for Friday evening

A woman pauses before releasing a balloon message to her loved ones during the Out of the Darkness suicide awareness and prevention walk at Crosslin Park last year. (Bonnie Vculek / Enid News & Eagle)

ENID, Okla. — American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will host an Out of the Darkness suicide awareness and prevention walk, in conjunction with First Friday events, Friday evening in downtown Enid.

The walk will start at the Garfield County Court House lawn, with registration at 5:30 p.m. and the walk at 6:30.

According to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), participants "join the effort with hundreds of thousands of people to raise awareness and funds ... to invest in new research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy, and support survivors of suicide loss."

AFSP has set a goal to reduce the annual suicide rate by 20% by 2025, according to its website.

Tasha Billingslea, one of the organizers for the event and a board member with the Oklahoma chapter of AFSP, said suicide is a larger issue than most in the community realize, or admit.

According to AFSP figures provided by Billingslea, almost 45,000 Americans die each year by suicide, and 800,000 people worldwide.

"We're not trying to scare people," Billingslea said, "but ... suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 18 to 34 in Oklahoma, so it is a real issue."

About one in five people have been affected by suicide, by losing a family member or friend, Billingslea said. But, the impact remains hidden, she said, because stigma keeps people from talking openly about suicide.

Mark McAdow, pastor at Willow View United Methodist Church, knows that impact personally.

"It's significant to me, because it has personally impacted my life," McAdow said. "I've lost four close family members to suicide and two close friends."

McAdow said he first attended the Out of the Darkness walk last year at Crosslin Park, and was surprised to see other members of his congregation there, because they'd also lost loved ones to suicide.

"It impacted me a great deal to see other people in my church family who have been impacted by that loss," McAdow said. "It's a club no one wants to join."

McAdow will be speaking at the event Friday evening, to let others know they're not alone in the pain associated with losing someone to suicide, and also to share suicide prevention tips "for people who might be struggling with those issues right now."

Billingslea said the Out of the Darkness walk serves primarily to raise awareness of suicide, reduce stigma and "show support for those who have lost loved ones."

The event also raises funds to assist AFSP with suicide prevention research.

Organizers have set a goal of raising $5,000, and as of Thursday afternoon had commitments for $3,300.

"We would still like to see the rest of that amount come in, or more," Billingslea said.

She also is hoping the general public will come out to walk in the event, and bolster the 115 participants and 18 teams already signed up for Out of the Darkness.

There is no fee to walk and show support at the event. Online registration is now closed, but walk-up registration will be available beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Billingslea said the event will happen "rain or shine."

"Walking to fight suicide is a very important cause that affects many Oklahomans in our community and state," Billingslea said, "and we just want as many people as possible to participate and be a part of this."

For more information, visit afsp.org/enid.

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for James? Send an email to jneal@enidnews.com.

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