(Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin/pmclaughlin@madisoncourier.com)
(Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin/pmclaughlin@madisoncourier.com)
A preliminary total of about $23,000 was raised by 454 walkers during Saturday’s Out of the Darkness walk to raise awareness about suicide prevention. The money will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and used for research to improve understanding of suicide and how to prevent it.

A large chunk of the money raised – $2,300 – was collected by Whitney Mathews and her Jobs for America’s Graduates students at Madison Consolidated High School.

Davarna Bond, AFSP outreach coordinator for Southern Indiana, spoke during the opening ceremony.

The first national Out of the Darkness walk was held in 2004 with about 4,000 people participating. Today, about 250,000 people participate each year. The funds raised will help AFSP reach its goal of reducing the suicide rate in the United States by 20 percent by 2025.

With 43,000 lives lost each year to suicide, “that will be tens of thousands saved,” she said.

The AFSP was able to give two $1 million grants in one year to researchers for this purpose “because of people like you,” she told the crowd of walkers at Bicentennial Park.

“We are creating a culture that is smarter about mental health,” said Bond, who lost her daughter, Dana, to suicide. Saturday’s turnout, she said, “tells me the stigma [of mental health issues and suicide] is going away.”

Wesley Stewart, 16, whose brother Ethan died by suicide in March 2015, spoke of the void that his brother’s death left in his life.

Ethan, who was six years older, had promised to teach Wesley how to drive when he got his driver’s license. “That was when I was 12. Here I am, 16 now, and he is not here to take me on the back roads like he said he would. ... People think it won’t happen to their family. We thought that, too,” he said.

“Suicide is preventable. I don’t want anyone of you to know what it’s like to pick out your brother’s death suit,” he said. “Reach out and talk about suicide to make people more comfortable with the subject. If you know some who is struggling, let them know there is help. Never be afraid to ask for help, either. There is always help. ... And always be kind to one another, because you never know what’s going on behind a face.”