The walk raises money for research, education and outreach.
continued The AFSP in the Capital Region also relies on 30 to 40 volunteers who provide survivor outreach services and are trained with money from the fundraiser.
“It’s an opportunity to share the same loss because all our volunteers have a loss to suicide. We send out two volunteers to offer support, offer resources,” said Riley. “We’re not mental health workers, we’re just people who have lost loved ones, colleagues, to suicide, so the loss we try to match.”
The other half of fundraising money is contributed to research at a national level.
“The AFSP is the leading nonprofit research organization studying things like what meds work, what behavioral therapies work, why is there a worry of bullying and its relationship to youth suicide,” said Riley.
The Out of the Darkness Walk for R.I.T.A. at the Saratoga Race Track is the largest of three in the Capital Region and one of about 250 nationwide. Each and every walker helps give a voice to the issue of suicide, said Riley.
“It’s realizing that this is a mental illness and if we show up in a mass like this, we really try to decrease the stigma associated with suicide in general,” said Riley.
Halden now lives in Vermont so she can only help stuff bags for walk participants, help at registration and lead her own fundraising effort. Just having some role, though, is enough.
“Once you’ve survived the loss of someone to suicide it actually is incredibly uplifting and helpful to be part of a community that feels very similarly and as long as we can keep that walk a strong community support, then other people will also feel like they have somewhere to run and not feel isolated and alone,” said Halden.
While difficult at times, the atmosphere is anything but dark, said Halden.
“It’s heartfelt, tearful, it’s emotionally draining; and at the same time it’s incredibly spiritual and uplifting,” said Halden. “For me, it’s been extremely healing … to be part of the process of trying to be proactive and the strength in numbers of people who have been through similar experiences really does move you forward instead of being stagnant in your sorrow.”
The 7th Out of the Darkness Walk for R.I.T.A. is Sunday, Sept. 18, at the Saratoga Race Track and steps off from the Union Avenue entrance at 10 a.m. It’s a 3-mile walk through downtown Saratoga Springs.