For many of the participants in Sunday’s Out of the Darkness Walk, the death of a loved one by their own hand marked not the end, but the beginning.
Roughly 200 area residents attended the walk at the Carlisle Fairgrounds to help raise money for suicide prevention efforts. In several cases, this was not their first event, but part of an ongoing effort that began with the death of a friend or family member.
“The worst tragedy of my life turned into meeting some of the best people of my life,” said Deb Rose of Shermans Dale, who lost her daughter to suicide in 2009.
Sunday was Rose’s eighth local walk. She has also completed 10 national-level overnight walks, organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which take place in major cities across the United States.
This year was Carlisle’s third local event to raise money for the the foundation, said event chair Tricia Carbaugh.
“My family and I decided we had to make appositive out of a negative, and this is what we found,” said Carbaugh, whose nephew took his own life in 2014. The following year, Carbaugh and her family formed the core of what would become the local walk organization for the foundation.
The idea of local walks is for advocates to seek per-mile donation pledges from their friends, neighbors and co-workers. Carbaugh also seeks lump-sum contributions from local businesses, as well as material support – Giant Food Stores, for instance, provided walkers’ water and snacks.
Carbaugh estimated roughly $15,000 would be raised on Sunday, with the majority going toward the foundation’s counseling and support efforts in Central Pennsylvania.
“The thing I like is that they have a very high rating as a charity,” Carbaugh said of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Their overhead costs are very low, and the majority of the money stays local.”
Many walkers were in groups dedicated to a specific person who had died. Judy Runyan of Harrisburg was one of roughly 20 people with “Team Jeron” T-shirts, in remembrance of a recently deceased loved one.
“In order to come out of the darkness, you need help,” Runyan said. “Getting support now is different than getting it before. Maybe he didn’t know how to ask for help. We don’t know.”
Most national estimates point to a significant increase in the suicide rate across the United States, and especially in rural areas. A Centers for Disease Control report earlier this year indicates a 40 percent rise in the rate of suicide in rural counties from 1999 to 2015, with a current rate of 22 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 12 per 100,000 in urban statistical areas.
The problem is often blamed on lack of easily-accessible mental health care in more rural parts of the nation. Without the availability of professional help, rural Americans can become increasingly distressed with few outward signs or symptoms.
“It crosses all the usual boundaries – white, black, rich, poor. People may not seem depressed, and then they’re gone,” Rose said.
“Everybody knows somebody who’s been impacted, but few people still want to talk about it,” said Rose’s friend, Annie Strite.
During an invocation before the walk began, Pastor Ivy Berry described the movement as “more than just an event for us to walk in the sun.”
“We have an obligation as children of God ... to take care of our brothers and sisters,” Berry said. “When one person hurts, we all hurt.”