Suicide is a national problem that can affect everyone. To remember their loved ones and raise awareness to the dangers of suicide, over 500 locals joined the Out of Darkness Walk at the Harker Heights Community Park Saturday morning.

“We are raising awareness and funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,” said Janet Sutton, organizer of the walk and board member for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Central Texas.

Sutton lost her only son, Christopher, to suicide in 2014. Her personal connection to the topic made her an advocate of suicide awareness and prevention. The raised funds are divided equally between community programs and research.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44,965 Americans die by suicide each year. 25 attempts are estimated for each committed suicide. The actual number, however, is expected to be higher since many suicides stay unreported.

“The biggest thing is that we have to talk about it,” Sutton said. “It shouldn’t be something that’s swept under the rug, it should be open conversation, people should not feel … afraid to reach out and get help. We have to erase that stigma and make mental health as important as physical health.”

Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. Suicide can often be the result of an untreated mental health condition which could have been prevented with the right medical treatment.

People in need or their loved ones can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or join a suicide support group in Bell County.

“I invite them to reach out and get help for their loved one,” Sutton said. “Don’t think it’s just going away on its own.”

Many participants used the Out of Darkness Walk to remember a lost loved one and help raise awareness to the topic to prevent others from suffering the same faith.

“We have people that have been touched by suicide in many different ways, whether it has been a family member, a friend or themselves – we all get together and basically become one,” said Clarena Tobon, who lost her mother to suicide in 2007.

Tobon and Sutton also started the local group Hope Happens to educate the community about suicide awareness and prevention as well as support those who have been affected by suicide.

“We just depend on each other emotionally to make this walk out of the darkness and just be there for the ones that we lost,” Tobon said.

Since suicide is a highly taboo and stigmatized topic, sharing their stories and feeling a sense of community is crucial for suicide survivors as well as survivors of attempted suicides.

“It brings everyone hope that there are others like them around that deal with it, and that can open that conversation about how it is to have someone lost to suicide,” Tobon said.

Sixteen-year-old Nicole Gage from Killeen painted rocks before the walk to remember the victims of suicide.

“I think it is important because it recognizes people that are affected by suicide and that it is a serious issue,” she said. “I am really glad that I am here because I didn’t realize how many people were affected by this really bad thing.”

Gage faced many struggles after her mother’s suicide attempts but found hope with the help of the community.

“If you feel alone, if you feel like hurting someone or yourself, you should really go and talk to someone that does care,” she said. “If you let people know they can help you out.”

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