Community walk to spread awareness for suicide prevention

Some people walk to improve health and feelings of well being. The hundreds who participate in Southwest Louisiana’s Out of the Darkness Walk will walk for the health and well being of others. This walk could even save lives by preventing suicide. It is the area’s largest mental health event, and it is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 16, at Burton Coliseum, 7001 Gulf Highway.

It is a remembrance ceremony for those who have lost loved ones, and it is a step in the right direction to remove the stigma associated with talking about mental illness and suicide so more people who need help will seek help.

“As with physical health, early intervention for poor mental health leads to the best outcomes. If someone is struggling with their mental health and they seek and receive services from a mental health professional, they may never reach a crisis stage,” said Kevin Yaudes, AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) Louisiana Chapter Board of

Directors chair and the Kay Doré Counseling Clinic Faculty Advisor. (The Clinic serves the Southwest Louisiana Community and is under the direction of the Department of Psychology and the College of Nursing and Health Professions at McNeese State University.)

The Out of Darkness Walk is a major fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the largest suicide prevention non-profit organization in the nation. Funds raised locally, stay local.

Sharing struggles should not create anxiety and feelings of shame

“Decades ago, people used to whisper the word cancer,” Yaudes said.

When his grandmother had colon cancer surgery, no one in the family ever used the word cancer.

“That is not true today, but to an extent, that is where we are when it comes to mental health and suicide. It is my hope that as the community conversation about suicide and mental health continues that we will get to the same place with these topics,” he said.

Most people who struggle with mental health will not die by suicide, but for those who do die by suicide, research shows that about 90 percent have a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness at the time of their death, according to Yaudes.

Answering the “why” behind death by suicide is complex, maybe even impossible.

“If the person who died by suicide did have a diagnosed mental disorder, survivors may attribute the death to the mental health disorder, but there are almost multiple factors that contribute,” Yaudes said.

A visit with a mental health professional could make a difference. But that takes action, maybe the suggestion of a family member, friend or community member that has been trained to help, maybe the feeling that the person will not be ostracized or considered weak-minded for seeking help.   

Yaudes  would like to see the act of seeking the services of a mental health professional as a sign of strength, rather than weakness.

“Open conversations about mental health would increase the collective community knowledge regarding the fact our individual mental health exists as a range,” he said. “Our mental health isn’t simply bad or good. For most people, it is somewhere in between. Not every mental health concern requires the help of a mental health professional. If someone is struggling with their mental health and they can recognize that, because their community supports open conversations around mental health, then they might be able to take steps to regulate their feelings using coping skills that have worked for them in the past.”

In a world plagued by wildfires, the threat of hurricanes, job insecurity, balancing work and home life and inflation, stress is a given and there  is a connection between stress and suicide, but that relationship will be unique to the individual, Yaudes said. Two children with the same parents could grow up in the same environment and one might develop good coping mechanisms and the other one may not. Stressors may change over time. Sometimes more tools are needed to be added to the coping skills toolbox. A mental health professional can help. Those who find themselves in the midst of the struggle can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or contacting the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

Learning to help others live

For those who want to learn more after participating in the Out of Darkness Walk, consider free training. The Kay Doré Counseling Clinic became a SWLA United Way partner agency in 2020. Through funding from the United Way, over 6,000 Southwest Louisiana residents have been training in suicide prevention.These two-day trainings teach non-clinicians how to help someone in a suicidal crisis by listening and connecting them to resources and services.

To sponsor this event or to register to walk, go to afsp.org/swla. Registration begins at 8 a.m. The opening ceremony is at 9 a.m. The walk is at 9:30 a.m. and the closing ceremony is at 10:30 a.m. Teams will create posters, wear team t-shirts, take photos, receive honor beads and more. Activities for self care include painting, origami, yoga and more. A special Kid’s Corner includes puzzles, arts and crafts, Gizmo 4 Mental Health Read-along, field games and more.

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