I am a member of the Oakley City Council and chairperson for Oakley’s first annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk, which will take place 9:00 a.m., October 10, at Oakley’s Cypress Grove Park. The walk is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Those of us who are walking that morning will be joining others in more than 400 of these walks that are held across the nation. The walks began in 2004; last year more than 200,000 participants walked together for the cause of preventing suicide.
I learned of the AFSP while engaged in a Safekeeper’s Training, which is sponsored by an Oakley organization called You Me We = Oakley and the Contra Costa Crisis Center.
When I learned of the suicide prevention Walks, I reached out to AFSP to volunteer my help in organizing a walk in our area. AFSP’s goal of preventing suicides is dear to my own heart because two people who were close to me ended their own lives. Both events were devastating. It was difficult for me to comprehend how their despair could have brought them to commit such an act.
Suicide Prevention is a worthy goal. According to the most recent statistics, someone in America dies by their own hand every 12 minutes. To bring it closer to home, 11 Oakley residents committed suicide last year; six already this year. Shocking statistics! The suicide rate seems too high for a city the size of Oakley. The truth is, however, that the number would be too high if only one Oakley resident were to commit suicide this year.
Last fall, I participated in an Awareness Workshop program sponsored by the City of Oakley and the Crisis Center, which inspired me to begin reaching out to the community on the topic. I subsequently joined a Safekeeper training sponsored by the You Me We = Oakley project in which we learned to recognize the signs of clinical depression and, therefore, possibly those at-risk for considering suicide as a pathway out of their darkness. We are trying to learn how to engage them in discussion and help them identify available resources.
As I began to get involved in the topic, I was surprised to learn how many people, at one time or another, contemplate ending their lives. I’ve met a number of people who are on that dark journey and I want them to know they are not alone.
The Walk has struck a responsive note in our community because we began to receive enthusiastic responses from people as soon as we began advertising the event. The response has been wonderful! A number of residents from Oakley and from other places in East County have been registering; some of them signing up as volunteers. Before the end of August, six weeks before the event, we had signed up nearly 300 participants toward our goal of 400 walkers and had raised more than $5,600 towards our $10,000 goal.
We’ve been planning for the Walk with the support of Ryan Ayers, who is the AFSP area director for Northern California. After losing his girlfriend to suicide in 2007, Ryan joined the San Francisco Community Walk as a way to find healing and support. He joined the organization as a volunteer and helped plan subsequent San Francisco walks. He served as a board member for a couple years before coming on as staff. Ryan has personally participated in 14 walks, in cities stretching from Bakersfield to Oregon.
An International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day — an annual event held in more than 300 countries around the world — is a follow up to the Community Walk. The Day is scheduled for the final Saturday before Thanksgiving and is intended for those who have lost loved ones, focusing on the challenges that they face and offering proven methods of comfort, solace, and healing. The event draws together a community of survivors who share with each other stories of loss and regret, and of healing and hope. For many participants, the event represents their first entrée into talking and sharing about their loss. Each International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is marked by the debut of an original film. Visit www.survivorday.org to find the nearest event.
The AFSP is the country’s leading suicide prevention organization. AFSP started in 1997 as a grassroots movement. From the beginning, a large portion of the donations has been funneled into research. At this point, AFSP has donated more than $20,000,000 into research studies. The money has a multiplying effect because the funds are mainly used to provide the basic research required to qualify studies and clinical trials for much larger National Institute of Health (NIH) studies. AFSP also engages in advocacy work at state and local levels by bringing attention to mental health concerns.
AFSP also promotes awareness through programs specifically targeting high school students, college students, and members of professional groups. They provide resources and support for survivors of suicide loss.
Mark your calendar for October 10. Come take a walk with us, and help us Create a World Without Suicide.