Suicide prevention walk helps survivors and those harmed by suicide loss

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COLUMBIA - Step by step, community members attended Out of the Darkness Walk on Sunday at Stephens Lake Park to promote suicide awareness and provide support to survivors and people harmed by suicide loss.

The walk was hosted by the Greater Mid-Missouri chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. AFSP is a national organization with local chapters across the nation that strive to lower suicide rates 20 percent by 2025.

“As long as we keep having these walks, we keep the name out there, we keep talking about it, we keep having that open communication, I absolutely think it is doable,” Beth Hendren, Walk Chair for Columbia Out of the Darkness Walk, said. “We just have to keep fighting.”

The Greater Mid-Missouri chapter has been around for six years, and this is its fourth year to host the Columbia walk. Nearly 700 people signed up to walk, and it raised more than $34,000 by Saturday night. The organization hopes to reach $50,000 after tallying up donations made at the walk.

Half of the donations will be kept within Mid-Missouri's chapter to help local suicide prevention efforts. With donations, AFSP will further prevention education programs, advocate for policies and support survivors of suicide loss.

Hendren said the event is a balance between the darkness of suicide and celebration of loved ones’ lives.

“We want to laugh. We want to smile. We may smile while we are crying but we are still smiling,” Hendren said.

On the celebration side, participants listened to live music during registration. Several raffles were held, and people wrote inspirational messages in chalk.

For survivors healing, participants heard the name of their deceased loved one called out from a list. A photo brick wall was created by people placing pictures of their loved ones on the wall.

Participants also wore different colored beads to show their personal connection to the cause. Hendren wore white to represent “lost a child” to suicide.

Hendren experienced her first walk four years ago, when her 14-year-old son, Cody, died by suicide.

“I was in a really bad place, and I went to the Out of the Darkness Walk," Hendren said. "And I was surrounded by love, non-judging people, and I said I need to be a part of this.”

Hendren became so enthralled with Out of the Darkness Walks and the healing it gave that she became a board member and chapter officer. Hendren is now in charge of the walk’s location, food trucks, info tables, volunteers and much more.

She has come full circle from needing healing—to healing others.

“I want to make sure that no one has to go through what I went through,” Hendren said. “I want to make sure people realize they are not alone.”

The Greater Mid-Missouri chapter hopes to add a Springfield walk to their Fulton, Joplin and Columbia walks.