Out of the Darkness Community Walk scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Macon

The Out of the Darkness Community Walk from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will be back in person Saturday afternoon at Tattnall Square Park after two years of virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and they’ve already shattered a fundraising goal.

The AFSP hosts community walks annually across the nation to raise awareness and funds for suicide prevention and to give those affected by suicide a community of support. One of those “suicide survivors,” or a person who lived through the death of someone close to them by suicide, is Candice Harnage, who has participated in the walks since 2019.

“I lost my mom to suicide, May 16, 2019,” Harnage said. “It’s awful, it sucks and all those horrible things that you can think of associated with it. And right after I lost her, somebody informed me about the Macon walk, which was in August 2019.”

The community she gained from the AFSP helped her grieve as she and the others around her talked about their experiences with suicide.

“This is how I continue to help her because it makes me feel better,” she said, “By talking about it, I have a lot of people that reach out to me privately that have lost somebody to suicide, somebody very close to them, or they had some dark times in their own life. And because they keep talking to me, it just encourages me to keep fighting.”

Talking openly and honestly about suicide doesn’t just help those who have lost someone. A commonly held belief is that talking about suicide can increase suicidal thoughts in those experiencing mental health problems — the National Library of Medicine, however, finds that “acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce, rather than increase suicidal ideation, and may lead to improvements in mental health in treatment-seeking populations.”

“Sometimes that’s all it takes,” AFSP Georgia Chapter Associate Area Director Chelsea Piatt said. “Somebody who just needs a listening ear, or somebody to just talk to them and provide them with resources. And that’s really what these walks are about.”

The walk, Piatt emphasizes, is not competitive. Instead, it is about coming together to talk about mental health.

“You’re not sitting out at dinner a lot of times, and you bring up how suicide has impacted your life,” she said. “But at these walks, you sort of have the freedom to do that. And a lot of people open up and make long-lasting friendships just by attending one walk.”

The walk originally had a goal of raising $10,000 for the AFSP. But after reaching that goal several days before the walk itself, the goal has risen to $13,000.

“AFSP’s overall mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide,” Piatt said. “All the money that we raise goes towards supporting that mission, and so we support that mission through funding of suicide prevention research.”

Funding also goes towards promoting legislation to support mental health and suicide prevention.

Those interested in registering can do so free of charge on the AFSP website or at the walk Saturday starting at noon. The walk begins near the fountain in Tattnall Square Park at 1 p.m.