By Heather Ruenz

SLN staff

Ribbons hang on trees around the square in Elkhorn. They were hung by volunteers, including members of the Elkhorn Area High School HOSA, in preparation for the Nov. 4 Out of the Darkness Walk at the Walworth County Fairgrounds.


A group formed in the area two years ago, the Walworth County Suicide Prevention Education and Awareness Coalition, aims to reduce the number of suicides in the county through education, awareness and advocacy.

Rebecca McAuliffe, co-chairman for this year’s Walworth County Out of the Darkness walk, said she joined the coalition last year after walking to honor her sister, whom she lost to suicide in August 2015.

“The walk was very meaningful to me, and the members of W-SPEAC made it even more personal by posting large, laminated photos of our lost loved ones so that each person could be seen and remembered,” McAuliffe said.

“It’s so important for suicide loss survivors to have a safe place to grieve and honor their loved ones openly and without judgment,” she added.” Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding suicide loss and mental health issues and this can inhibit the healing process.”

The coalition’s goal is to change that stigma, McAuliffe said.

“We believe it’s time to get smart about mental health and start speaking openly about suicide and the tragic reality of suicide loss. It is preventable and there are plenty of great resources here to help those who struggle,” McAuliffe said.

Volunteers placed ribbons around trees on the square in Elkhorn, in honor of last month being Suicide Prevention Month, and to create awareness in preparation for the upcoming walk.


About the walk

More than 300 people from Walworth County are expected to participate in the Walworth County Out of the Darkness community walk at 9 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Walworth County Fairgrounds.

It begins with an opening ceremony featuring speakers and is followed by a balloon release, according to McAuliffe.

“There are different colored balloons for each category – sibling, friend, parent and so on. It’s a way to memorialize those that have died from suicide. The walk will start about 9:45,” she said.

The fundraising walk supports the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s local and national programs and its goal of reducing the annual rate of suicide 20 percent by 2025.

The walk will be hosted by the Walworth County Suicide Prevention Education and Awareness Coalition, which was formed as a result of the first Out of the Darkness Walk in Walworth County in 2015. Prior to this, Walworth County was one of the only counties in Wisconsin without a suicide prevention group.

W-SPEAC has since combined with the Walworth County Community Health Improvement Plan Depression and Suicide Work Group and created a four-year plan for preventing suicide in Walworth County. The Out of the Darkness walk is one way to raise funds to implement the suicide prevention plan since up to half the money raised can be spent locally.

“Suicide affects one in five American families,” McAuliffe said. “I am walking to bring awareness to this leading cause of death and let people in the community know that they are not alone. There is help out there for those who live with a mental health condition and support for those who have lost a loved one to suicide,”

The Walworth County walk is part of a national Out of the Darkness walk movement consisting of community walks, campus walks and two overnight walks each year. In 2016, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention hosted more than 500 Out of the Darkness walks spanning all 50 states, uniting more than 240,000 walkers and raising millions of dollars for suicide prevention research, education and advocacy.

Proceeds from the walks support programs such as Talk Saves Lives, an educational presentation about how to recognize the risk factors and warning signs of suicide, and a new film titled “It’s Real: College Students and Mental Health” that launched this spring. Through fundraising at the walks and other community and national events, the foundation has been able to fund 552 research grants totaling more than $34 million since 1987.

With money raised from last year’s walk, W-SPEAC hosted a day-long training in mental health first aid for Walworth County community members. Mental health first aid is an American Foundation for Suicide Prevention program that teaches participants how to assist someone in a mental health or substance abuse crisis. In the future, W-SPEAC hopes to sponsor additional trainings in mental health first aid and Talk Saves Lives.

“These walks are about turning hope into action,” said foundation Chief Executive Officer Robert Gebbia. “Suicide is a serious problem, but it’s a problem we can solve. The research has shown us how to fight suicide, and, if we keep up the fight, the science is only going to get better, our culture will get smarter about mental health, and we’ll be able to save more people from dying from depression and other mental health conditions.”

Local American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sponsors for the Walworth County Out of the Darkness community walk include Walworth County Health and Human Services, J. Robert’s Menswear, R&L Spring Company, Advia Credit Union, and Verlo Mattress Factory.

To register visit, then under Out of the Darkness Walks near the bottom of the page, click on “community walks;” on the following page, click on “find an event” and type “walworth county” in the second search box. To follow a link on Facebook visit “Walworth County Out of the Darkness Walk 2017.”

Those in crisis should call the Walworth County crisis intervention line at 262-741-3200 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “Hopeline” to 741741.


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