Jefferson, Lewis County locals walk for suicide awareness in Thompson Park Sunday

Oct. 9—WATERTOWN — At the very top of Thompson Park on Sunday, about 100 people walked in honor and remembrance of the friends, family, co-workers and strangers who have ended their own lives.

It was the 12th year that the Out of Darkness walk has been hosted in Watertown, led by the Greater Central New York Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Organized by that group's area director, Karen J. Heisig, the walk is meant to memorialize those who have killed themselves, show support for those who have considered it and for the friends, family and colleagues of those who have died by suicide.

"We're trying to raise, elevate the conversation, let people know that they aren't alone, whether they've lost someone or they're someone who struggles," Ms. Heisig said. "We all have mental health challenges, and the more we talk about it, the more we can do about it."

She said there are often misconceptions around suicide and its causes, and there are many people who would prefer not to discuss the topic whatsoever. But that can won't help, she said.

"Talking about it does not cause suicide," she said. "And not talking about it doesn't prevent suicide. If we are talking about it, we open the door to someone to maybe reach out to a friend and discuss what they're feeling."

In the blustery, cool fall day, Ms. Heisig said the crowd wasn't quite as large as they've seen in the past, but still represents a strong contingent of people from across Jefferson and Lewis Counties who want to bring mental health care into the limelight.

Speaking to the assembled crowd, Ms. Heisig said there's hardly a person in the world who hasn't been touched by suicide in some way, and there have been some encouraging steps forward in the national conversation about suicide lately.

"Remember the 1-800-272-8355 national crisis number?" she asked. "That's now 988."

In July of this year, the national crisis line where trained volunteers are available to discuss callers mental health crises and offer assistance, was transitioned from its 11-digit toll-free number to the emergency-style 988. Nonprofits and volunteer groups nationwide handled tens of thousands of calls in the first few months, with more calls all the time.

But, Ms. Heisig said, there will always be more work to do, more people to talk with, more changes that can be made to ensure anyone who needs help for a mental health crisis can receive it, without turning to self harm or suicide.

"If you want to be an advocate, it is so easy to sign up with an organization and become one," she said.

More information on volunteering with the AFSP is available at

this year's walk is expected to bring in about $13,180 in donations, which helps Ms. Heisig run regional suicide awareness and prevention drives.

"We raise this money so we can give back to the community for free," she said. "Someone needs resources, someone needs training in their workplace or their school, we want to support them, and we do it for free."

Before the walkers set out for their lap around Thompson Park, Ms. Heisig read out 42 names, the names of those lost to suicide provided by the attendees.

"It's too many names, for this small crowd," she said. "There's not anyone that hasn't been touched by suicide in some way, shape or form. But we are hear to be the light-bearers, and hope for them."