“Out of the Darkness” Brings Suicide Prevention into the Light
By Josh Whitener
The 10th annual “Out of the Darkness” Community Walk attracted thousands of supporters to Mt. Trashmore to advocate the awareness of depression and suicide prevention. Many of the 5,550 preregistered attendees from all over the Hampton Roads area donned shirts or arm bands in memory of loved ones lost to suicide.
The local sponsor, Hampton Roads Survivors of Suicide (SOS) support group, provided informational counseling. The group was formed 27 years ago for those who’ve lost family or friends. Several organizations including the Hampton/Newport News Community Service Board were also in attendance.
The Hampton/Newport News CSB offers counseling and therapy to those who may be in need of it. Barry Katz, psychotherapist, explained the benefits of the government funded program. The CSB works with patients who may not be able to afford private therapists or those without insurance with a sliding scale program.
“One of the things we say is ‘died by suicide’ we don’t endorse ‘committed suicide.’ That infers it’s like committing a crime, that you did something bad,” Katz said.
450 volunteers from the Hampton Roads area were there to assist attendees with informational tents. Starbucks and Chick-fil-A offered free coffee and breakfast sandwiches to a massive crowd, while water and other refreshments were given out as well. A Memorial Wall booth displayed smiling faces on photographs, freely given by friends and family of victims who died by suicide.
“Admission is for education and awareness in terms of depression and suicide. Suicide is a preventable illness…it’s totally treatable,” Katz said. “It’s also for survivors. Certainly for people who have lost people by suicide.”
Many of those present were carrying messages of survival after the death of a loved one due to suicide.
“We had two tragedies in our family. My kids lost their dad to suicide and we lost our cousin to suicide, so it’s near and dear to us. We want to make sure there’s awareness out there that everybody could get help whenever they needed and we’re out here to help you if you need it,” Jessie Taylor, a Virginia Beach resident, said.
Family and friends of Tiffany A. Whitley Lewis, who died by suicide in June, brought a large presence to the Community Walk. Walkers with their dominating red shirts reading “Team Tiffany” were scattered around the crowd in various locations.
Patria Waters, sister of Lewis, spoke of Tiffany’s illness. “It was hidden,” Waters said. “It’s not talked about in the black community.”
Issues such as these emphasize the willingness and eagerness for volunteers like Freeman and Waters to break open the barriers of cultural differences and spread the seriousness of depression and suicide, bringing the hidden problems into the light in hopes of preventing tragedies such as theirs.
From the starting point of a curtain made of 1,000 paper cranes, the swarm of advocates careened through the walking trail that surrounds Lake Trashmore. Thousands were laughing and marching, some shouting chants while others held signs promoting their personal message of advocacy.
The event brought more and more volunteers and attendees as the afternoon continued. Counselors were in attendance throughout the walk to assist with any issues or concerns.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued a statement regarding the profits gathered from the event.
“The money raised at this walk will go towards suicide prevention through research, education and treatment plans. I commend all those who work with your organization to help strengthen the community and improve the lives of others,” McAuliffe said in a statement.
The walk was followed by a picnic for those who wished. Group pictures were available along with other activities and fundraising opportunities.