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Arcata community fights suicide stigma

Residents and students alike came together on the 4th annual Arcata “Out of the Darkness” community walk on Sept. 9 to raise awareness for mental health and suicide and to reduce stigma in the local community through connection. The event was also to fundraise for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

Heather Freitas is the lead organizer for the AFSP Out of the Darkness community walk in Arcata. Freitas said the walks are a way for the community to come together and create awareness as well as fight negative stigma against mental health.

“It is not possible without the community,” Freitas said.

The walk starts in Arcata Square where participants checked in, looked at mental illness informative booths and engaged in activities that share a connection with suicide.

180909-093545.jpg Participant Sarah Zerkel writes a personal message for a posting board during the Arcata Out of the Darkeness event on Sept. 9, 2018. The board is made of memorials, pictures and tributes that other participants put up. | Photo by Michael Weber

Before the walk, community members were able to show support and learn about mental illness by wearing self identifying beads, sharing stories, and listening to speakers talk about mental health.

The walk itself was an estimated three miles long and took an hour and a half for all participants to complete the walk.

A major landmark of the walk was passing through a “bridge of support,” where motivational and inspirational posters made by former volunteers were put up for display.

180909-100033.jpg One of the numerous posters filled with messages for participants of the Arcata Out of the Darkness Walk in Arcata, CA on Sept. 9, 2018. | Photo by Michael Weber
180909-101227.jpg Participants of the Out of the Darkness community walk in Arcata, CA cross the St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetary on Sept. 9, 2018. | Photo by Michael Weber

In the end, participants walked through the finish line and were congratulated for completing the walk.

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For the closing ceremony, Friedas shared her personal experience to the crowd.

“On this day in 2011,” Friedas said her first loss to suicide was her dad. She said he hid it well, and passed away when there was no one to check up on him.

“We don’t grieve just the loss of a life, we grieve with how our relationships change as well,” Friedas said in her speech.

Sept. 9 is also the start of suicide prevention week. As national suicide rates are rising, according to the CDC, support for mental health will continue in the community of Arcata.

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