Six hundred people registered to walk in Sunday’s second annual Out of the Darkness Walk for Oxford. Organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the event raised more than $24,000, compared to $10,000 last year.
Father Joe Tonos of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church told the crowd God is merciful and will welcome anyone home, even those who want to go home early.
“I think the walk is sort of a metaphor for the people who just couldn’t finish their walk in life,” Tonos said.
Maddy Gumbko, a junior at the University of Mississippi and chair of the Oxford Walk, brought this event to Oxford last year after her close friend committed suicide.
“My friend Brooke and I started this event to bring awareness to this cause, to help those who are struggling and to let them know that they are not alone and that they have a support group,” Gumbko said.
Pam Smith, an AFSP Board Member of the Mississippi Chapter, joined the team after she lost her only son to suicide two-and-a-half years ago.
“I decided, instead of suffering, that I was going to become a board member and save lives, and, believe it or not, it’s counseling myself,” Smith said.
According to the AFSP, over 44,000 people commit suicide per year in the United States. It is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 18 and 24. In Mississippi more people die by suicide annually than by homicide, costing the state over $456 million in combined lifetime medical and work loss.
Smith said she will do everything she can to lessen the numbers of suicides. She has already helped get advising programs on campus and a firearm awareness program. She is already working on her next goal, which is to have a suicide healing group by the first of next year.
“It is a daily occurrence that we see people with anxiety and depression, and it’s a big concern,” Dr. Travis Yates, director of University Health Services, said. “We do have a psychiatrist and nurse practitioners that will counsel those students for free, but if we have someone who is suicidal, we contact 911 because that’s always the safer option.”
The next AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk is at 1:30 p.m. at Veteran’s Park (Baseball Pavilion) in Tupelo Saturday. Anyone can sign up for free online at afsp.donordrive.com or donate to the organization without attending the event. All raised funds go toward new research, educational programs, advocacy for public policy, and support of survivors of suicide loss.
Alexandra Morris is a journalism major at Ole Miss.