Community walks to prevent suicide

Participants raised money for suicide awareness, research and prevention.

Out of the Darkness Community Walk participants view posters hung in memory of friends and family Sunday in St. Paul, Minn. (Bridget Bennett)

Image by Bridget Bennett

Out of the Darkness Community Walk participants view posters hung in memory of friends and family Sunday in St. Paul, Minn. (Bridget Bennett)

Patches of different-colored shirts illuminated the shore of St. Paul’s Lake Como on Sunday.

Almost everyone displayed the face or name of a loved one lost to suicide.

Hundreds of people came together at Black Bear Crossings to participate in the Twin Cities Out of the Darkness Community Walk, one of 250 similar walks taking place across the country this fall.

Sunday’s walk marked the event’s fourth year in the Twin Cities. Proceeds from the walk will go to funding suicide awareness, research and education initiatives.

“There’s a stigma around suicide,” said Dave Slavens, the chair of Greater Minnesota’s chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which organized the event.

“It’s almost like a societal thing where people are just afraid to talk about it, afraid to face it, afraid to even bring awareness to it.”

In April 2011, Slavens’ brother committed suicide. Eighteen months have passed, and he said his family is still struggling.

“I just don’t want to see another family have to go through that,” Slavens said.

In 2011, Slavens participated in his first Out of Darkness Walk. He said he’s working to increase awareness with this year’s walk.

“The whole point is just to bring awareness and to let other kids know that there is an outlet and that there are places they can turn to,” he said.

Damian Winfield of Apple Valley, Minn., walked with family and friends in memory of his son, Michael, who committed suicide by hanging himself four years ago. Michael was 21 at the time.

Damian Winfield said the walk made him feel better but also made him question why he came.

“The walk, you get a lot out of your system, but at the same time you’re still not sure why you’re doing it,” he said. “We’re just out here comforting each other for the most part.”

He said being supported by a large group made it easier to do the walk.

“I’m sure everybody’s got a lot of hidden pain here, but this kind of thing I think helps us get through.”

Lindsey Rafnson’s brother Logan died in April 2012 when he was 22. She said he attended Hibbing Community College to become a helicopter pilot and later attended Inver Hills Community College.

Rafnson said she and her family were walking to raise awareness about suicide among college

“It’s heartbreaking to see how many people it affects,” she said, “but [it’s] also really great to see so many people willing to step out of themselves and say that they’re here to help break that stigma.”

According to a 2010 College Student Health Survey by Boynton Health Service, more than a quarter of students at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Depression and anxiety were the two most highly reported to the survey.

Walk coordinator Becky Cole said a portion of the walk’s proceeds will go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s interactive screening program for students at colleges including Metropolitan State University and St. Cloud State

The anonymous screening test identifies risks in students’ mental health and connects them with resources that might help.

Cole said 85 percent of students who completed the questionnaire had serious depression or suicide risks and were not receiving treatment.

“This helped them to make the connection with faculty or staff and help kind of bridge that,” Cole said, adding that she could see the program coming to the University of Minnesota in the future.