On June 1, nearly 2,000 people—survivors of suicide loss, those with depression and other mental illnesses and suicide prevention advocates—joined together in the nation’s capital for AFSP’s 2013 Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk.
Along with family, friends and hundreds of volunteers from across the country, participants walked 16 miles through the night to create awareness and raise funds to support AFSP’s research and education programs to prevent suicide, increase advocacy and assist survivors of suicide loss.
The 2013 Overnight has raised more than $2.6 million, before expenses.
“Since the inaugural walk here in 2002, there have been 11 Overnights, with 4,000 volunteers, 14,000 walkers, 200,000 donors and 23 million dollars raised—we are now a movement,” AFSP Executive Director Robert Gebbia said. “And just like at the first Overnight, we will bring our cause to the streets of Washington, and especially to our political leaders. Tonight we take a step closer to making suicide prevention a national priority.
“We walk to remember loved ones and to make it clear that mental disorders are real illnesses—not weaknesses, not character flaws. Those who live with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety or addiction, they need treatment, not blame, not discrimination. Every year we lose more than 38,000 lives to suicide in our country. Suicide is preventable and we must stop this tragic loss of life.”
Our motivation is not how our son died but rather how he lived and we embark on this walk for the 12th time to give his life meaning. —Raymond Burke, walker"
“The loss of our son, Raymond, in 2001 made us realize the far reaching effects of depression and mood disorders,” said Raymond Burke, 55, of Chantilly, Va. “There are a lot of wonderful and compassionate people who have been so generous and kind to me and my family over the last 11-plus years in making donations to these walks. Our motivation is not how our son died but rather how he lived and we embark on this walk for the 12th time to give his life meaning.”
“I have lost my mother, my aunt and two friends to suicide,” said Samantha Fahy, 45, of New York City. “My mother died almost 25 years ago and to honor the 20th anniversary of her death, I signed up for my first Out of the Darkness Overnight in 2008. That day was the true start of my healing process. I have met so many amazing people and heard heartbreaking stories during the last five walks and for the first time in my life, I do not feel so alone about what I have gone through.”
Mary Beth Stewart, 57, of Vienna, Va., walked all 16 miles and delivered the keynote speech at the closing ceremony, sharing her struggles with depression. “For me, the walk is about ending the shame and stigma surrounding mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder, and alcohol and substance abuse. We need to talk about these issues, just as we talk about cancer, HIV/AIDS and heart disease. We need to bring these issues out of the darkness,” Stewart said.
“This will be my seventh Out of the Darkness Overnight walk. We lost our 17-year-old son, Tommy, six-and-a-half years ago to suicide. From the very beginning, participating in the Overnight has been a cathartic experience,” said RoseMary Fuss, 63, of Wellesley, Mass. “It provides me the opportunity to openly remember and honor Tommy. Walking from dusk until dawn, with thousands of others, including many of Tommy’s friends, is both somber and hopeful.”
For me, the walk is about ending the shame and stigma surrounding mental illnesses. —Mary Beth Stewart, walker"
The Overnight raises funds and also creates national awareness, and the media plays a vital role in helping spread information about suicide prevention, mental illness and the walk to the general public.
This year’s Overnight was covered by several media outlets including the Associated Press, Al Jazeera, the Washington Post, Military Times, and local ABC, CBS and NBC TV and radio stations. News stories leading up to the event were published in newspapers and on websites and blogs across the country.
Hundreds of Overnight participants reported live from the event and shared their experience on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, furthering awareness about the cause. Thousands of messages were posted and reshared on Twitter and over a thousand photos were posted on Instagram.
AFSP would like to express its appreciation to the walkers and their donors, their family and friends who came out in support of them, and the volunteers and crew for donating their time and expertise to make the event a memorable experience for the walkers. AFSP would also like to thank Forest Laboratories Inc., Sunovion, The Hill and MIX 107.3 FM for sponsoring the event. Details on the 2014 Overnight will be announced in the coming months.