When people struggle with mental illnesses, one of the most common things they are told is to reach out for help. Talking to someone else, whether he or she is a medical professional or not, can make all the difference during a mental health crisis.
This sense of community is prevalent throughout the mental health world, and the people of Philadelphia know all too well how important it is to reach out for help in a time of need. June 30th saw more than 2,000 people in Philadelphia complete a 17-mile overnight walk to raise awareness and money for mental health treatment as part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walk, the Philadelphia Enquirer reported.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 11.3 out of every 100,000 Americans committed suicide in 2007. This rate has been gradually growing since 1999, when the number rested at 10.5. Many critics believe that these figures are tied with the nearly 9.6 million adults who have exhibited symptoms of a serious mental illness within the past year.
The AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk came to Philadelphia for the first time June 29, but the event did not lack for participants, as over 2,000 walkers raised donations for local mental health services and carry on the memory of those they lost.
Kim Dorwart was one of the first-time walkers. Her daughter, Vanessa, committed suicide in 2010. Dorwart explained that while she is still affected by her daughter’s death, events like this make her feel as if she is still contributing to some greater purpose, such as breaking through the stigma that keeps people with mental illnesses from seeking the help they need.
“If I had cancer, I wouldn’t say ‘Oh, please don’t tell,” Dorwart told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The 2,000 walkers were split into groups, such as “Team Madison Strong,” which walked in honor of a University of Pennsylvania freshman who committed suicide in January. The team raised more than $59,000 for the walk – the highest total among all the teams. Each walker brought in at least $1,000 in donations. State regional director Patricia Gainey explained that the funds will be used to bolster “mental health first aid training,” support groups and bereavement measures for those who have lost loved ones to suicide.
Melissa Hopely, a 26-year-old speaker who travels to schools to talk to young children about mental health, spoke at the AFSP walk about the need to begin educating young children on what is really going on in their brains. Otherwise, they may not recognize that they need help at all.
“You need to start really early,” Hopely told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Who says what age you start getting depressed?”
The AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk may have just come to Philadelphia, but the event has been held in several locations already. Another overnight walk was held in Seattle on the same night as the Philadelphia one, and the two marked the end of the AFSP’s 2014 calendar for their overnight walks.
The organization also puts on daytime walks, such as a June 14 event in Boise, Idaho, or the 160,000 people who participated in a 2013 Out of the Darkness Walk in Maryland.
“It’s time to shine a light on mental illness and suicide, and that’s what the Out of the Darkness walks are designed to do,” Patricia Kotzen, chairman of and participant in the Maryland event, told The Star Democrat.
Kotzen will reprise both of her roles as organizer and walker for the 2014 walk scheduled for September 6th.