Despite living in one of the safest periods in human history, rates of depression and suicide among the population continue to grow. And we are not sure of the root cause of this. Media outlets rarely cover this difficult subject. Due to how common suicide incidents have become nationwide, suicide is something that should be talked about more in order to better treat and prevent the act.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) was formed in 1987. Initially funded by pharmaceutical companies, it wanted to separate from pharmaceuticals and eventually became more of a “grass-roots” organization. Since then, it has grown into a large, self-sustaining foundation not funded by any government programs. AFSP’s primary source of funding are Out of the Darkness Community Walks in every state, plus Out of the Darkness Campus Walks in the spring. AFSP shares the net proceeds of Community and Campus Walks 50/50 with the AFSP Chapters where these Walks take place.
AFSP has one or more chapters in every state of the country. AFSP Montana Chapter was formed in 2001. One focus for the Montana Chapter is free classes to help people better understand suicides’ risk factors and warning signs, and how to properly interact with people when concerned. Joan Nye is the Chair of AFSP Montana Education Committee, which schedules and direct the trainings and presentations in the Billings area and throughout Montana.
The Yellowstone Valley Out of the Darkness Walk was held at Veterans Park in Billings on September 16. The main walk is 3 miles long with a half mile option available. Many activities are at the park, and water and food are served at the park and at the mid-point outside the Adult Resource Alliance building. Local Businesses and organizations are recruited to be sponsors for the cause, starting at $500. Sponsorships have marketing and publicity benefits.
“I lost my son in 1999. He struggled with depression and other issues starting from puberty like many kids do,” said Nye.
“We tried everything we could. But eventually he lost that battle with depression, we all lost it. The Out of the Darkness Walks started in Billings in 2004, and I have been involved ever since. After the first Walk I took the AFSP training to become a facilitator for a support group for people who lost someone to suicide. I facilitate a support group in Billings and coordinate the annual Survivor Day event in Billings.”
The Out of the Darkness Walks raise funds for the AFSP, which are put towards support platforms listed in its mission statement. These platforms include suicide prevent research, education, advocacy, help for those who struggle personally, and support for survivors of suicide loss. One AFSP goal is is to reduce the annual suicide rate 20% by 2025.
“There is a wide range of support,” said Nye.
“The Yellowstone Valley Community Walk is a meaningful, colorful event for people who struggle with their own mental health or support loved ones who struggle and for those who have lost someone. People also come to support the cause and to support others. I think it has helped a great deal to bring suicide and mental health out of the darkness so that there is less stigma, hence the name ‘Out of the Darkness.’”
“A survivor of suicide loss feels very much alone because people tend to keep it a secret,” Nye continued. “The support groups help people realize they are not alone, survivors all have the same emotions and can beat up on ourselves in the same way.”
AFSP makes a concerted effort to include those who are struggling with their own suicidal thoughts. It aims to provide a voice and a community to those who have lost someone, and to those we do not want to lose.
There is a tendency to oversimplify the approach of dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. People perceive our emotions as a polarity of ‘happy’ and ‘sad.’ This serious issue is often confronted with little understanding of emotional pain.
“Being depressed is like being in a Black Hole,” said Nye. “It is something about which people traditionally have not been willing to talk or open up. They feel they have to walk around with this invisible rain cloud over their heads because it is something they are not supposed to talk about or share with others. Even family members feel they cannot express concern about a loved one who is struggling or acting out, or perhaps they don’t know what is causing frustrating behaviors. We train people to ask the open-ended questions and listen. We cannot make a depressed person feel better just by telling them how good their life is, it is far more complex than that. Getting people to talk about and express their emotions is a better approach than just listing off reasons to be happy. Two [of many] AFSP programs titles, TALK SAVES LIVES and Have An Honest Conversation, show the importance of talking and listening.”