Morgantown Out of the Darkness Walk takes place in support of suicide prevention

Monongalia and Preston

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – The Morgantown Out of the Darkness Walk, whose goal is suicide prevention, was held on Saturday, Oct. 2, in Krepps Park, with a few dozen people in attendance.

The event is organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Cindy Stagg, the West Virginia State Chapter Chair for AFSP said walks like these are held nationally with the intention of raising awareness.

Members of the “Team Katy” fundraising group

“They are a way of bringing the community together, to honor the people we’ve lost to suicide and to help support those who are still living and struggling,” Stagg said. “We try to keep them here.”

The event started in the park, where the bead ceremony was held.

The ceremony uses beads to represent different kinds of suicide. White, for example, represents the loss of a child and teal represents a friend or family member of someone who struggles with, or has attempted suicide.

Every time a color was called, someone who relates to it placed a bead. Stagg said the ceremony can be “life-altering”.

So can the money the event raises.

“We are almost at $9, 000 this morning for this walk,” Stagg said. “Everyone can still fundraise and it will get credited to the Morgantown walk through December 31st, so money will still keep coming in. About half of that comes back to West Virginia, and we use that in our communities here. And AFPSP — American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers free training to people. We don’t ever charge anybody to come to get trained, and we do like safe talk and talk safe lines.” 

Stagg said AFSP has “various educational programs”, which help people become aware of suicide warning signs.

Participants walking after the bead ceremony

In addition, these programs teach people “how to safely approach someone and ask them in a very safe way if they’re thinking about suicide. And also, it helps them to learn to say the word because so many people still don’t even want to say it and there’s such a stigma attached to it,” Stagg said.  

“But the main goal is just to save lives and bring hope to those that are affected by suicide, you know, whether they’re struggling, whether they’ve lost,” Stagg said. “We are a 501C3 organization. All of our money that runs everything we do is through donations. And, we have research, we do advocacy both on the state level and on the federal level. We go to Capitol Hill and talk to our federal representatives there advocating for policy and dollars.”

One of the biggest issues that AFSP and other similar groups have advocated is a new suicide hotline number.

Currently, the number for the National Suicide Hotline is 800-273-8255.

However, there has been a push to get a three-digit number, like 911. When rolled out, the new number will be 988, Stagg said.

“It will be like a 911 for mental health so that people don’t have to remember that long 800-273-8255 number,” she said. “But, that is still always out there. That’s a 24/7 resource. People can text 741741 if they want to talk to someone if they’re struggling. And, you don’t have to be suicidal to reach out to either the crisis line or the text line. There’s somebody there just to talk with you. If you just feel down low and blue and lonely, just reach out. There will be somebody there.”

Participants taking part in Out of the Darkness Walk

If you’re interested in getting involved with AFSP, Stagg said, then you are more than welcome to join. The state chapter of the organization is mostly run by volunteers.

You can find the group via its website. While AFSP does not have support groups, Stagg said, it has ways to help people find one.

“We have links to support groups, the information in every state of ones that we know we’re safe. We won’t put them up there if they’re not a safe, good, healthy group to go to. So, if you see it on the AFSP website, it’s at least been endorsed, or their facilitators have been trained through dollars raised from AFSP.”

Stagg said you can also join the Facebook page where you can learn about events, advocacy and networking.

There are eight walks in the state every year, she said and they are all aimed toward suicide prevention.

“Our walks are called ‘Out of the Darkness” because we’re trying to bring mental health and the stigma of suicide out of the darkness and into the light,” Stagg said. “Because that’s how lives are saved; when people are comfortable talking about it, just like they’re comfortable talking about their kidneys or their liver, or their lungs. They need to be talking about their brain just as easily. And, we want to provide support. We do education advocacy support. I mean AFSP is here to do anything and everything we can to help people.” 

If you and or anyone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255.

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