Out of the Darkness Walk shines a light on suicide prevention

For many people, the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic has made them eager to join friends and family once vaccinated. Others, however, felt apprehensive when attempting to return to socializing, said Laura Lewis, associate director of the Ohio State University Suicide Prevention Program (OSUSPP). She hopes the Out of the Darkness march, which will take place on April 9, will serve as a smooth re-entry point for these people.

“I think walking is a way for some people to get back together and see what it feels like to be surrounded by energy and love,” she said. “Some people have forgotten it exists or are looking for a way to get back into the world, not because they resist it, but because they haven’t in two years.”

The 2022 Out of the Darkness Walk will be Ohio State’s first in-person walk. The 2020 and 2021 events were held virtually, with people walking through their neighborhoods, due to the pandemic. It’s one of more than 650 campus walks across the country, all of which serve as a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24.

While the funds support the AFSP, the OSUSPP receives indirect benefits from the donations, Lewis said. The university’s curriculum relies heavily on AFSP for research, programming, and graphics.

Advocacy programming and events, like the Out of the Darkness march, are one of the office’s most used tools.

“What we know is that most people want someone to ask them if they are okay. They want someone to be direct and clear because they can’t be,” Lewis said. “If we can be that bridge, if we can say, ‘I see what’s going on’, then we can come to our side and help that person step closer to us.”

Participants in this year’s event will gather at Larkins Plaza for opening remarks and activities before the group heads to and then around the Ring before returning to the square. A REACH training, OSUSPP’s flagship program, will take place immediately after the event. The acronym represents the five principles of training:

  • Rrecognize warning signs
  • Eengage with empathy
  • Aask questions directly about suicide
  • VScommunicate hope
  • Hhelping suicidal people access care and treatment

Since training began in 2013, more than 22,100 people have earned the REACH Gatekeeper designation.

While the pandemic has demonstrated how easily people can connect over great distances, Lewis said there is power in community gathering in one place.

“You can come as a team, you can come alone,” she said. “Let us come together in the spirit of hope and healing and remember those we have lost. Let’s open this conversation and reduce the stigma by walking together.

Recently, Ohio State football player Harry Miller medically retired from the team after experiencing significant mental health issues including suicidal ideation. Like so many others, Lewis was impressed with Miller’s candor when discussing his decision.

“The courage to be so vulnerable and to be so transparent, he reminded people that there is hope,” she said. “I like to think people might seek us out if they feel like Harry or want to help people like Harry.”

The fundraising goal for this year’s Out of the Darkness Walk is $15,000. Registration for the event is available on the Suicide Prevention Program website.

If you or someone you know is going through a mental health crisis, there is hope and healing! Please contact:

  • Crisis Text Line: text “4hope” to 741741
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK
  • Local 24 hour crisis phone line: 614-221-5445
  • 24-hour crisis hotline for Ohio State University employees: 800-678-6265

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