On Saturday, September 27, 2014 GoodTherapy.org team members participated in the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide awareness organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Team GoodTherapy.org was the top fundraiser with a donation of $1,873; together the Olympia, Washington community raised over $14,000 through the local Out of the Darkness Walk to donate to AFSP. Nearly 250 people showed up to make the walk around Olympia’s Capitol Lake on Saturday, and many more gave online donations before the event.
“Suicide is preventable, and your presence here today and the money you have fundraised will help save lives,” said Emma Bagnell, northwest area director of AFSP. AFSP is dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide. The goal of the foundation is very aggressive right now, and that is to reduce suicide by 20% by 2025. The money we raised here today is spent throughout the state of Washington.” Bagnell explained that the money goes to a few specific programs and causes:
Advocacy Efforts of AFSP
AFSP was instrumental in helping pass a bill in January mandating that health care providers in Washington state receive training in suicide prevention. “Anyone who is a doctor, a healthcare provider, or a counselor actually gets trained each year for six hours in suicide prevention and awareness,” said Bagnell. Now, at any doctor’s appointment or checkup, people in Washington will be asked about feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts.
AFSP Community Outreach Programs
“The foundation also has … a group of volunteers who go out and visit people who have experienced a loss,” said Bagnell. All volunteers have experienced a loss themselves and are post-loss by two years. Their grief and healing inform their work with others who have also lost a loved one to suicide. Bagnell explains, “If we hear of someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, who is grieving, they can reach out to us and say they would like a home visit by someone who’s gone through what they’ve gone through. [Our volunteers] listen to their story, be there for them, and offer resources and help.”
She says this becomes a cycle of healing, and people are motivated to inspire and help others who are in similar situation. “Some people lost someone to suicide, Googled it for the first time, and found AFSP and the survivor outreach program. They had someone come out and offer support in their time of grief, when they needed it the most. Then they themselves became volunteers and walkers.”
The money raised for AFSP will also go to providing materials in various communities in Washington, such as survivor outreach kits. Bagnell says AFSP can mail kits to people who decline home visits with volunteers.
Suicide Prevention Training with AFSP
Members of the community, not just medical professionals, can enroll in different types of trainings with AFSP. Bagnell says the trainings can happen anywhere from high school and college classrooms to workplaces. A training called Safe Talk takes only three hours, and Bagnell says it will “help you recognize signs of depression and recognize when someone might need help, and also what to do if you feel like someone is struggling—what to say and what not to say.”
Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, or ASIST, is another program open to anyone. It spans two days, and Bagnell says AFSP hosts the ASIST training five or six times a year. “This program is designed for people who want to go that extra step to help someone,” she said. “It’s good to be able to know what to say to someone if you think they’re struggling, if you think someone’s down, or if you just want to be better qualified when you need to talk to friends or family.”
Organizers agreed that the first step to helping loved ones and helping further suicide prevention efforts is getting involved with events like the Out of the Darkness walks. “I find comfort in solidarity being among others who care about this cause and the loved ones it affects and has affected,” said Steve Garvin, an organizer of the Olympia Out of the Darkness walk. “Each person here adds to the strength of the group that will be there when someone is suffering or in crisis.”
CEO and Founder of GoodTherapy.org Noah Rubinstein walked with other team members on Saturday, and said he was moved by the participation of so many people and the community efforts to help others heal. “As a psychotherapist who believes that all people can find their way out the darkness, that we all have what it takes inside of ourselves to heal and find our center, it’s heartbreaking to consider that as I write this there are so many people in crisis, who may not have the support they need,” said Rubinstein. “Having lost a close friend to suicide and known others who have struggled with suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide, I’m aware of the unbearable pain and loss, and what it’s like to be the one left, in shock, in guilt that I didn’t know more, in guilt that I didn’t do more.”
Feelings like guilt and shame often play a part in the stigma surrounding suicide—both for those with depression and for those who have lost loved ones to suicide. “One in four of us suffers from mental health problems,” said Emma Bagnell, “and no one should be embarrassed to seek help.” Steve Garvin agreed: “Depression … comes from a lack of hope. We all deal with struggles, and sometimes we minimize our personal struggles because we say to ourselves, ‘I am no different than anyone else who also struggles.’”
Garvin continued, “I think we have another option when we think of our personal struggles: Instead of minimizing them, we can use the weight of the pain and sorrow that comes from struggling and grow in love and appreciation for those around us.”
As the hundreds of people trekked around the lake in Olympia, the feeling of community and support was strong. “There are too many lives that could be saved,” said Rubinstein. “I’m inspired by everyone who came out to raise money and participate in the AFSP Out of The Darkness Community Walk. I’m incredibly grateful for the AFSP and all the work they’re doing to save lives and save hearts.”
Thank you to everyone who works to end suicide, and thank you to those who supported GoodTherapy.org in our efforts to fundraise. Our donors include Gloria Leclair, Joanna Arlow, Marilyn Chapman, Terri Childers, Kayleen Childs, Marcel and Shirley Dandeneau, “Turtle dove,” Kirstin Eventyr, Fred Feldmann, Shana Frankovich, Gail Gosney, Dan Gottlieb, Teresa Guajardo, Elise Hart, Jessica Heimark, Susan Heitler, Tony Huynh, Fredda Jaffe, Pam Jodock, Chloe Kadel, Bob and Kathy Kelln, Janice Kennedy, Chesna Klimek, Kiola Krienke, Michael Mayberry, Mick and Kerry Messer, Ilene Peters, Ann Phillips, William and Denise Rankin, Noah Rubinstein, Deborah Shough, Mariel Small, Rob Wieman, Kris Wilkerson, Stu Yarfitz, and Jeffrey Zuckerman.
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