The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) held its third annual Out of the Darkness Walk at Buffalo Park Oct. 5 and plans to continue the tradition into the future.

The walk was organized by Rebecca Landon, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and co-chair for the Flagstaff Out of the Darkness Walk. Landon said the purpose of this year's walk was to raise suicide awareness, raise funds for the AFSP and bring people impacted by suicide together in a space where they have support.

"It's important to let people know ⁠— who have attempted and are survivors, or people with family members who completed and are grieving ⁠— that they're not alone," Landon said

North Country HealthCare psychologist Bennett Edgerly said the event consisted of a 2 mile walk along the Buffalo Park trail, multiple speeches from AFSP staff, a bead ceremony, the announcement of fundraising totals and a new City Council proclamation in honor of suicide prevention.

The walk was also organized by Priscilla Brown, a crisis mental health social worker and co-chair for the walk. Brown is also the advocacy chair for the AFSP in Arizona and has spoken to legislators in Washington about mental health and suicide prevention.

Brown said there are four Out of the Darkness walks in Arizona: one in Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff and Prescott. There are over 400 suicide prevention walks in America with chapters in all 50 states. Out of the Darkness gets its name from two overnight walks, which are held in large cities every year. This year, the walks are in San Francisco and Boston, but the Oct. 5 walk was a smaller community version.

Sponsors included the Northern Arizona Healthcare Foundation, Flagstaff Pro Rodeo, CollegeAmerica, North Country HealthCare and Pioneer Title Agency. Multiple organizations provided volunteers who contributed to the cause, including Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, The Guidance Center Inc. and Terros Health.

Brown said she was impacted by suicide on a personal level and was inspired to get involved.

“Rebecca and I started about five years ago when I had lost a friend to suicide, and I couldn't sit there and do nothing," Brown said. "We discovered the AFSP, which has been an amazing experience."

Freshman Dylan Gingg, who attended the walk with his church group, Challenge Church, said suicide is not often noticed and needs to be recognized.

“Out of the Darkness, to me, means putting the light on something that was out of sight or out of mind,” Gingg said.

According to USA Today, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. and has increased more than 33% in the past 19 years, but suicide prevention does not receive anywhere near the amount of funding given to other leading causes of death, such as cancer and diabetes.

The top individual fundraiser for the event was Sigma Chi member Slater Wellington, who raised a total of $2,925. The highest fundraising team, Sigma Chi, donated a total of $2,945, Edgerly said.

The bead ceremony during the event allowed participants their choice of colored, beaded necklaces to wear in honor of a personal loss or struggle. Edgerly said it is important to recognize these symbols of remembrance and love.

“Each of us has our own stories. These beads pay tribute to those we’ve lost and represent the diversity of our community’s connection to suicide prevention. It's because of efforts like this that we're going to prevent suicide,” Edgerly said.

In honor of those affected by suicide, Councilmember Charlie Odegaard read a proclamation from the mayor.

“Coral Evans, Mayor of Flagstaff, Arizona, do hereby proclaim October 5th, 2019 as Out of the Darkness Day," Odegaard said.

During her speech at the ceremony, Brown said what this walk meant to those involved and how it helps support the program.

“Today you are sending the message that mental health is as real as physical health. The issue of suicide cannot be kept in the darkness," Brown said. "Together we are creating real and lasting change.”