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Out of the Darkness to raise funds for suicide prevention

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ORONO — Every 14 minutes someone commits suicide. Researchers at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, behind influenza, cancer, respiratory and heart disease. Given the statistics – 38,364 suicides were reported in 2010 – it ranks not only as one of the top 10 leading causes of death for Americans, it is also one of the highest preventable causes of death.

According to research compiled by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), suicide crosses all boundaries – race, gender and socio-economic status. Today it remains a taboo subject in the U.S., while other mental health issues – depression – have lost much of their stigma.

To combat the taboo forcing many at risk for suicide to suffer in silence, a community walk and memorial will raise awareness of suicide and suicide prevention. The event will be held Sunday, Sept. 29 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the University of Maine in Orono. Working in conjunction with the AFSP, the event is organized by the campus Counseling Center and Touchstone Resources. Sunday’s event is the fourth annual walk, which first began in 2009.

The event begins at the University of Maine outside the Raymond H. Fogler Library. Registration begins at 1 p.m., but anyone interested can register online at afsp.donordrive.com by looking up events in Maine. Between 1 and 2 p.m. walkers can mingle and enjoy a selection of refreshments, including coffee from Tim Horton’s, fresh pizza from Orono House of Pizza, fresh food from Highmoor Farm and bottled water from Coke. Renaissance, an on-campus a cappella group, will provide touching entertainment during the first hour.

A silent auction and T-shirt sale will be held with proceeds going to support suicide prevention and research.

Before the event begins, several participants, whose lives were touched by suicide, will give testimonies about their experiences. Charles McKay, an organizer from Touchstone Resources, said, “It’s pretty powerful.” It is a reminder to others that they are not alone in what they are going through, he said. Suicide touches many, especially when it is a close relative – a father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter. A guest speaker will share their experience.

The testimonies strengthen the message of the walk, which is to “feel connected,” not to feel alone in going through the aftermath of suicide or one’s own feelings about it.

After the memorial service, the walkers will follow a three and a half mile loop through UMaine and downtown Orono. Walkers follow College Ave. to the intersection of Park Street and then cross the Stillwater Bridge into town. Across the bridge, the walk then heads towards the Orono Public Library, the halfway point of the walk. A brief stop will be made for a restroom break. The walk then returns across the bridge, up Park Street at which point the walk returns to campus via Rangley Road by Bangor Savings. Walkers return to Fogler, concluding the walk.

Anyone looking for a shorter walk can stop at the intersection of College Ave. and Park Street and proceed directly to Rangley Road rather than crossing the bridge.

The Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk is just one of the programs the campus Counseling Center and Touchstone Resources maintains. “We operate our prevention program [based] on the research of Thomas Joiner,” said McKay. Thomas Joiner, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, wrote “Why People Die By Suicide” in 2005, providing insight in understanding the phenomenon of suicidal ideation.

“The first thing we look at is if people feel like a burden. [Believing that their] loved ones would be better off without [them],” McKay said. Often suicidal behavior is borne from a perceived lack of belongingness and disconnection from others. Much of which, according to McKay, is a distortion brought on by the psychological pain the person is dealing with. This is why “we focus on belongingness,” he said.

The key to helping someone in crisis is “to notice.” An increase in depressive moods, changes in behavior or cryptic hints can be indicators of a person’s mental state. Being able to see this and provide help and acceptance is important in rising out from those mindsets and getting out of the darkness.

Out of the Darkness is a key fundraising event, and all proceeds go to supporting the AFSP’s research and programs for suicide prevention. Touchstone Resources offers an anonymous questionnaire for anyone in crisis. The questionnaire is completed online and sent to a member of the Counseling Center and Touchstone Resources who analyzes the questionnaire and makes contact with the student. Through the whole process the student’s identity remains secret until they feel comfortable arranging a meeting with a counselor.

According to McKay, it is essential for “break[ing] down the barriers [that make] people nervous to seek help.”

The goal of this year’s walk is to raise $8,000. At the time of writing this article, the amount raised was $3,167. Anyone interested can register in person at the event or online at afsp.donordrive.com. Registration can be for individuals or teams. Other events scheduled in Maine by the AFSP include the Sanford Out of the Darkness Walk in Sanford. Previously this year Out of the Darkness Walks were held in Waterville and Fort Kent.

Other sponsors for the Orono walk are Acadia Hospital Corporation and H.O. Bouchard Transportation Services.

For more information on the AFSP and suicide prevention, visit www.afsp.org or go to www.outofthedarkness.org. Check out the AFSP’s Facebook and Twitter pages more updates. Contact the local Maine chapter of AFSP at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

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