by Alex Anderson
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention hosted the Out of the Darkness Community Walk in Arcata with 230 registered walkers on Sept. 10th. Attendees shared their stories with one another, walking in solidarity. The walk consisted of a two mile loop around Arcata, passing by Cal Poly Humboldt and Arcata High School.
According to AFSP.org, the organization was formed in 1987 by a group of families who lost loved ones to suicide. The organization teamed up with researchers investigating suicide prevention and how suicide affects those left in its wake. This years Out of the Darkness Walk helped raise $17,393, which will help fund suicide prevention research, according to AFSP.org. The goal of these walks is to bring together those who have suffered loss, considered suicide, or have a desire to help the cause of suicide awareness and prevention. The walks are a place for a community to come together and have a welcoming place to discuss their stories.
Staff Psychotherapist and Suicide Prevention Coordinator for Counseling & Psychological Services at Cal Poly Humboldt Nassie Danesh was in attendance for Sunday’s walk. Danesh joined the walk to honor those who have died by suicide and to bring hope to the community. She wants people to be aware of the resources available on campus for students who may be struggling. According to Danesh, enrolled students have access to short term psychotherapy, single session therapy (SST) and crisis intervention at CAPS on campus.
“As a psychotherapist, my goal is to support those who suffer from suicidality, suicide ideation and mental health and to increase the community’s awareness about suicide,” Danesh said. “Connection is one of the most important factors to save lives.”
Heather Freitas, a member of AFSP and chair of the walk for the Arcata event since its origin in 2015, offered information about potential local resources for those in the Humboldt community. Freitas listed the Department of Health and Human Services and United Indian Health Services as some of the local resources for people who strive to seek help. She spoke about the Suicide Crisis Lifeline at 988, something that she described as a great resource that is available 24 hours a day. Freitas explained why she walks.
“I walk in honor of my dad and friends that I’ve lost by suicide,” Freitas said. “I’ve lost six people by suicide.”
Christina Huntress, the area director for the San Francisco/Bay area chapter was present at the event. Huntress shared some history of AFSP and the story of how she got involved in the movement. Speaking to the large crowd, Huntress explained how she lost a close friend named Eric to suicide, which drove her to get involved in suicide prevention. She explained how the walks open up a needed dialogue, revealing that she had not known that her mother struggled for over 30 years in silence until her first walk with fellow family members.
“I walked to honor Eric that day, but I keep walking because of the conversations that I had at that very walk,” Huntress said. “And at that walk that day, I learned that my mom struggled for over 30 years in silence, and our family never spoke about her struggle because we didn’t know how to.”
Kyndra Harris, a first time walker, was happy to see the amount of people that showed up for the event to share their stories. Harris came to the event to show support to those in need and remember her father and older sister who were lost to suicide. Harris left a photo of her sister on the memorial board, with a note dedicated to her late sister, Kyla Harris which read:
“My big sister, Kyla, my biggest inspiration and soulmate. The biggest, most contagious smile that filled any room with a heart of pure gold,” Harris wrote. “Back in her daddy’s arms again.”