Spokane walks out of darkness

Community assembles for suicide prevention


Bailey Monteith

Dirk Wright mans a table at the Spokane Out of the Darkness Walk.

By Shandra Haggerty, Contributor

Silence fell over Riverfront Park on a cool Saturday morning save for the clicking of thousands of beaded necklaces. Red, for the loss of a spouse. Gold, for the loss of a sibling. White, for the loss of a child. Each one rattling in chorus as they were raised into the sky honoring loved ones lost to suicide. Many people in the crowd had lost their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, spouses, parents, friends or coworkers to suicide. Several had even attempted taking their own lives.

Over 1,000 people gathered for Spokane’s Out of the Darkness Walk at Riverfront Park on Saturday, Sept. 22. The walk was put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The foundation started the walk in 2004 with 4,000 people at 24 walks and now it’s an event that’s held in 425 cities across the country with 275,000 people participating.

AFSP’s Washington director, Justine McClure, was very impressed with the support. This year was the first time in history that Spokane had reached its fundraising goal before the walk even began. The AFSP aimed to raise $28,500 and as of the beginning of the walk they had already raised $10,000 more than that.

“Our mission is to save lives and bring hope to those that have been affected by suicide,” McClure said. “That would not be possible if it wasn’t for you here today.”

McClure heavily emphasized what would be a recurring theme all day; you shouldn’t be ashamed to talk to someone.

When one in four of us suffer from mental health concerns, no one should be embarrassed to seek help. And when others lose loved ones to suicide it’s our responsibility as a community to show our support in their time of mourning.”

— Justine McClure

Booths were scattered across the area with advocates for suicide prevention, EWU’s Public Health Association among them.

Johnny Aldan, the association’s president on the Spokane campus, had never been to an Out of the Darkness Walk before, but when he heard about it he knew it was a cause he wanted to be a part of.

“One of the realms of public health is mental health,” Aldan said. “We do our best on the public-health side to help individuals who are suffering from mental illness, going through some hard times or contemplating suicide.”

Aldan mentioned that not many people know what public health actually involves and that mental health and suicide awareness are significant aspects of the association.

“Should students ever have the need to ever come to us, we can point them in the right direction to get the services they need in that respect,” Aldan said.

alifeYOUnited also held a booth at the walk, hosted by its CEO and EWU alumna Mary Stover. alifeYOUnited is all about suicide prevention and starts education with children as young as kindergartners. The organization attends many community events handing out bracelets, candy and its business cards, trying to spread its word to as many people as possible.

“We focus on kindness, compassion, anti-bullying and building a community and sense of belonging,” Stover said.

Greg, the first speaker at the event, was 10 years old when his father took his own life.

“My father was a great person,” Greg said. “So when he ended his life it was terrifying for me and my entire family.”

Greg explained that he didn’t know anything about depression or suicide before the death of his father, but afterward he experienced the saddest time of his life.

“We are all here for one reason,” Greg said. “And that’s because suicide has impacted us in one way or another.”

The second speaker, Angela, has been part of the Out of the Darkness Walk for the past five years. Like Greg, Angela lost a parent to suicide. She was 15 when her mother ended her life. Angela was also suffering from depression at the time.

“My brain was still developing,” Angela said. “We’ve all been there. It’s normal.”

She explained that she was suffering from an untreated mental illness, but that it’s no different from any other illness. Angela said that her mother was made to feel weak and ashamed for taking antidepressants and was never able to accept that she was a good person.

“If she were here today, we would all tell her that it’s okay to have feelings of depression for days, months or even years,” Angela said. “It’s not a sign of weakness or failure. It shows that you’re human.”

After everyone spoke the walk began. Over a thousand people took to the Centennial Trail to represent walking out of the darkness, as the money they had raised would be used to fund research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy and support the survivors of suicide loss. As much as the event was filled with hurt there was a striking amount of compassion. All these people gathered to support each other and raise awareness for suicide in hope that by working together the suicide rate could decrease significantly.•