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Out of the Darkness Walk shines light on suicide prevention

Event breaks down stigma, encourages community support

For many people, the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic left them eager to rejoin friends and family once they were vaccinated. Others, though, felt some apprehension when attempting a return to socializing, said Laura Lewis, assistant director of The Ohio State University Suicide Prevention Program (OSUSPP). She hopes that the Out of the Darkness Walk, taking place on April 9, will serve as a gentle reentry point for those people.

Laura Lewis“I think the walk serves as a way for some folks to step a toe back into being together again and see how that feels, being surrounded by energy and love,” she said. “Some people have forgotten that that exists or are figuring out a way to get back to the world, not because they’re resistant to it, but because they haven’t done it 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 in their neighborhoods, due to the pandemic. It is one of 650 campus walks held around the country, all of which serve as fundraisers for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15-24.

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

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

“What we know is most people want someone to ask if they’re OK. 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 happening,’ then we can approach from our end and help that person take one step closer to us.”

Participants in this year’s event will gather at Larkins Plaza for opening remarks and activities before the group walks to and then around the Oval before returning to the plaza. A REACH training, OSUSPP’s signature program, will be held immediately after the event. The acronym represents the training’s five principles:

  • Recognize warning signs
  • Engage with empathy
  • Ask directly about suicide
  • Communicate hope
  • Help suicidal individuals access care and treatment

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

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

“You can come as a team, you can come on your own,” she said. “Let’s gather together in the spirit of hope and healing and remember those that we’ve lost. Let’s break open this conversation and reduce stigma by walking together.”

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

“The courage to be so vulnerable and to be so transparent, he has reminded people that hope exists,” she said. “I like to think that people might seek us out if they’re feeling like Harry or if they 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’s website.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, hope and healing exists! 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 Phone Line for Ohio State University Employees: 800-678-6265

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