Monroe County walks for mental health
Waterloo will host two mental health events this Saturday morning, one to promote general health and wellness and the other meant to help recognize Suicide Prevention Month.
The first of these events is the Mind Over Miles Run & Walk organized by Human Support Services and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, which takes place at Rogers Elementary School starting at 8 a.m.
Starting a bit later is the Monroe County Out of the Darkness Walk at Lakeview Park. Check-in starts at 9 a.m., and the walk begins at 10 a.m.
Many other Out of the Darkness walks take place throughout the state – including in St. Clair County – as the events serve as fundraisers for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
This is the fourth annual walk taking place in Monroe County, and according to the event co-chairs Nicole Harrison and Dawn Woodall, it’s been quite successful as a fundraiser.
“I believe that we’ve probably raised close to $100,000, which is amazing for a community of our size,” Woodall said. “We’ve really gotten a lot of support from business owners as well as members of the community.”
The two explained that they both lost a son to suicide several years ago. Harrison recalled how much of a shock losing her boy was, particularly given how, by all accounts, he seemed to be leading a quite positive life but was apparently suffering in silence.
Harrison noted how difficult that first year was for her and her husband, though they were able to find some comfort and community when they attended the St. Clair County Out of the Darkness Walk and encountered a number of people who had experienced similar losses.
With an urge to bring that event back home, Harrison reached out to Woodall, and the two were able to work with the Illinois chapter of the AFSP to make it happen.
“As much support as Monroe County has given us, we thought it would be well-received in the community, and we’re just amazed at how well-received it is,” Woodall said. “We’re just amazed by the support we’re getting. Monroe County has always been a loving and giving community, and they’ve really shown that to us.”
Angela Cummings, executive director of AFSP’s Illinois chapter, offered some additional perspective about the event.
She said the Out of the Darkness walks throughout the state serve as the organization’s biggest fundraising avenue, allowing the AFSP to offer their programming and other educational resources for free.
Cummings also explained some of the history of the AFSP and the Out of the Darkness Walk, including the impact that they had in the 2000s.
At the time, Cummings said, a broad consensus of suicide was that it largely wasn’t preventable.
In the last two decades, the medical and cultural understanding of suicide has changed considerably as survivors have spoken out and researchers have considered suicide more like other mental health issues.
“It was just a topic that was not talked about, highly stigmatized,” Cummings said. “The prevailing idea was that you can’t really do anything to help people, this is what they’ve decided to do. The Out of the Darkness walks really started to change all of that.”
Remarking on the Monroe County event, Cummings praised Woodall, Harrison and the community for managing to put together such a successful walk.
She specifically mentioned the event’s 30 business sponsors – the first local walk featured 12 – saying many events in more populous Illinois communities tend to have as few as three.
Woodall and Harrison spoke positively about the overall experience people can expect at Saturday’s Out of the Darkness Walk.
Harrison spoke about how this walk has served as a healing experience for her and Woodall, emphasizing the sense of support which she said comes largely from Monroe County being such a close community to begin with.
Woodall spoke similarly, adding the event is hardly as depressing as some might expect.
“It’s not somber,” Woodall said. “We try to keep it upbeat, and basically it’s for people to get together and support each other.”
Cummings said much the same about her experience at Out of the Darkness walks.
“They’re really a nice, hopeful event,” Cummings said. “I do recall when I started working at AFSP about nine years ago, somebody once said, ‘Oh aren’t these just really sad events?’ And I said, ‘No they’re not, they’re very hopeful.’ People will come to up to you at these events, and they’ll hand over a donation. Sometimes it’s as little as five dollars and they’ll look at you and say, ‘If I can keep any other family from having to go through this, this is worth it to me.’”
For more information on the AFSP or the Out of the Darkness Walk, visit afsp.org or the AFSP Illinois Chapter Facebook.
In speaking with the Republic-Times, Cummings also stressed the importance of the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline established last year.
The number serves as a quickly accessible means for individuals to speak with someone if they or someone they know are suffering from suicidal thoughts or a mental health crisis.
She explained that, prior to its introduction, Illinois ranked the worst for in-state calls and wait times, but the 988 addition as well as greater funding have drastically changed things.
“I cannot tell you what a game changer 988 has been for Illinois in particular, and particularly in remote areas where there may not be a lot of behavioral health support that’s readily available,” Cummings said. “988 is the three-digit number that people can text or call.”
As previously mentioned, the Mind Over Miles Run & Walk will take place earlier Saturday morning.
HSS President and CEO Anne Riley offered some insight regarding the partnership with the sheriff’s department.
“We partner with the MCSD on many initiatives, and the sheriff and I thought this would be another great way to join together to raise money for educational programs through the sheriff’s department and HSS,” Riley said.
She noted that a K-9 demonstration will take place at 9:15 a.m. at Rogers Elementary.
Riley further discussed the overall goal for the event.
“It is hopefully pretty well-known that one of the best forms of taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally, is being active – walking, running, or just moving outdoors with friends and family,” Riley said. “HSS hopes to continue spreading the word about positive mental health in any way that we can. We are hopeful that this can evolve into an annual event.”
The Mind Over Miles Run & Walk is part of the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration, which will continue later that day with a 4 p.m. celebration in HSS’s parking lot at 988 Illinois Route 3 in Waterloo.
For more information on the event and celebration, visit hss1.org or the Human Support Services Facebook page.