Sunday walk to bring suicide ‘Out of the Darkness’

  • The Massachusetts chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention organizes Out of the Darkness community walks to bring the topics of suicide and suicide prevention to light. On Sunday, a walk will be held starting at Greenfield’s Energy Park. Contributed photo

Published: 9/27/2019 5:48:53 PM

GREENFIELD — Participants of the Out of the Darkness walk will bring the topics of suicide and suicide prevention to light on Sunday.

Although the topic of suicide is often stigmatized, Sunday’s walk is empowering, said Jen Matoney, co-chair of the board of directors for the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), which is organizing the event.

“There’s a real sense of community,” Matoney said of the walk’s atmosphere. “The walks really give people the courage to open up about their own struggle or their own loss to suicide.”

The event is free, open to the public and brings together those affected by suicide — those who have lost someone to suicide, those who have experienced thoughts of suicide and allies of both groups. The sixth annual walk in Greenfield is organized by volunteers who began planning months ago, Matoney said.

“We typically get 100 to 150 walkers,” said Heather White, the area director for the Massachusetts and Vermont Chapters of AFSP.

A “bead ceremony” that kicks off the walk at Energy Park at 10 a.m. encourages participants to choose a colored bead that represents their relationship with suicide.

Walkers can register individually or as part of a team, which often raise money. Though online registration has closed, same-day registration begins at 9 a.m.

White added that the money raised supports AFSP educational programs, which aim to raise awareness of how to prevent suicide. The online registration website lists a $10,000 fundraising goal, with roughly $7,500 having been raised as of Thursday night.

For example, the AFSP has hosted its “Talk Save Lives” program in Franklin County, White said, along with other programs held at Greenfield Community College.

“People won’t know we’re here until they need us, and sometimes, it’s too late,” White said.

“There are so many people affected by (suicide),” Matoney said. “So there’s a lot of power in (the walk), where so many people come together.”

Although often taboo, it’s important to bring suicide to the spotlight due to the number of people it touches, White said. Citing data from the Massachusetts Violent Death Reporting System, White noted that in 2017, Franklin County had the highest rate of suicide statewide.

“Last year in Massachusetts, we lost more people to suicide than car accidents and homicides combined,” White said.

Both Matoney and White have personal experience with suicide, which has brought both of them into working to raise awareness.

Matoney lost her mother to suicide in 2007.

“As a loss survivor, it’s like a club you never thought you’d be a part of,” Matoney said. “When you lose someone to suicide, it’s painful beyond words.”

Matoney said that attending and eventually facilitating support groups has been instrumental in her journey through the shock, the unanswered questions and the sudden finality of her mother’s death.

“I feel grateful to have the opportunity to work with other people who have lost someone to suicide and (support those) who struggle with their own mental health,” Matoney said.

Volunteering with AFSP has been “a really big part of my own healing,” Matoney said. “I find it really empowering to be a part of this movement.”

AFSP has also played a vital role in White’s life.

“About seven years ago, I almost lost my own life to postpartum depression and suicide,” White said. She learned a lot from the training and educational programs offered by AFSP, and got a job working for the organization.

But, the work has been much more than a 9-to-5 job.

“Not only is it a job, but it’s become a lifesaver for me as well,” White said. “My family and I truly say all the time, AFSP has given me my family back and saved my life. It means so much more to me than a job.”

For those dealing with the loss of someone to suicide, AFSP offers a peer-to-peer program called Healing Conversations. At Baystate Franklin Medical Center, a suicide loss support group is held every second Monday of the month.

If you or someone you love is struggling with thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Maureen O’Reilly can be reached at moreilly@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.


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