Out of the Darkness

More than 100 people are signed up to participate in the Portneuf Valley Out of the Darkness Community Walk set for Cotant Park in Chubbuck on Saturday. This photo was taken at last year’s event.

The Portneuf Valley Out of the Darkness Community Walk is set to take place at Cotant Park in Chubbuck on Saturday.

The walk, which officially begins at 10:15 a.m., is one of hundreds taking place throughout the country. The events, organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, raise awareness and support for mental health issues, as well as funds for research on suicide prevention.

“Our mission is to save lives and to bring hope to those affected by suicide,” said Carmen Stanger-Barney, the public policy chairwoman for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Idaho.

It’s a mission Stanger-Barney, a former Pocatello resident, believes in personally. Her 15-year-old daughter, Maddie, died by suicide in 2014.

“I just really want people to understand how serious this is, how many people are lost and how many are left behind that need help,” she said. “Suicide is not the answer.”

Sadly, Idaho regularly ranks in the top 10 states with the highest number of suicide deaths per capita, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Suicide Prevention Program.

“It’s not a race we want to win,” Stanger-Barney said, adding that they’re working hard to change that.

More than 100 people have already signed up for Saturday’s walk.

People can register online at afsp.org/portneufvalley or on the day of the event beginning at 9 a.m.

While it’s a 5K walk, Stanger-Barney said participants can walk as little or as far as they would like to. She says it’s not a race, but rather it’s a chance for people to gather, share their stories and find support.

Participants can also help raise funds, if they want to, as part of the event.

As of Monday afternoon, participants had raised more than $9,600.

During Saturday’s event, Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England will sign a joint proclamation for Chubbuck and Pocatello, declaring September Suicide Prevention Month.

Kelley Sutton Packer, a former Idaho legislator and the current head of the state’s Bureau of Occupational Licenses, will also speak at the event.

Packer has been an advocate for strong and responsible suicide prevention policies, Stanger-Barney said.

“She has a powerful message to share,” Stanger-Barney said.

Saturday’s event will also include some memorial ceremonies. And organizers plan to give out honor beads — colored necklaces that represent the participant’s reason for walking.

They have colors for those who’ve lost a child, a spouse or partner, parent, sibling, relative or friend, first-responder and someone in the military. In addition, they have colors for those who’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts or made an attempt, those who are supporting such people, and those who are simply supporting suicide prevention.

“We foster a community of strength, hope and recovery and survivor support,” Stanger-Barney said.

She noted they will have their community partners at the walk to highlight the mental health resources that are available locally.

“Everybody has a role to play in suicide prevention,” Stanger-Barney said, adding that it’s important for people to know what to watch for and how to help people who may be suicidal. “Come learn how to do that. It can save a life.”

For more information, people can also call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at 208-398-4357.