Minot's Out of the Darkness Community Walk to Prevent Suicide had to be canceled last year due to the flood, but the walk will be back this year on Sept. 8, with the goal of helping people walk out of the darkness that comes from suicide loss.
The first walk done in Minot happened three years ago in 2009, but community walks have been going on for 10 years, said Rick Townsend, psychologist at Dakota Family Services, an outpatient program that provides services for adults, adolescents and children with services provided to the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch. In 2009, Townsend said Minot's walk received the national award for outstanding first year walk and 2010 was also a success. Since last year's walk was canceled, this year's walk will be the fourth annual but the third actual event held. From past walks, the community response has been amazing, noted Townsend, with a lot of different groups getting involved.
Having a walk to prevent suicide in Minot was Townsend's idea, he said, but he's participated in walks in other places. He and his wife participated in one in Bismarck, where they first learned of the walk, and he's also participated in a walk in New York City, a 20-hour walk that goes overnight. Townsend and his wife organized a walk in Minot in 2009.
Rick Townsend, psychologist at Dakota Family Services, looks for a website on his computer in his office. Townsend is one of the coordinators of the upcoming Out of the Darkness Community Walk to Prevent Suicide, a three-mile walk for helping people with the loss of someone from suicide. The walk will take place Saturday, Sept. 8, at Roosevelt Park from 1 to 4 p.m.
Townsend has some personal experience with the topic of suicide, and as a psychologist has worked with suicide in one way or another. His daughter Julie was born with a brain injury and struggled with depression. She took her life 10 years ago.
"I have firsthand experience to lose someone to suicide," Townsend said. "I've found the walks to be healing and affirming of Julie's life, and dealing with grief and healing and shame. It's been a very important thing to raise funds and to provide the kind of support to people who have experienced a loss like that."
The walk to prevent suicide follows the same basic idea and motive, but every year they do different things, Townsend said. It's difficult this year, he noted, because a lot of the coordinators lost their homes in the flood and they don't have half the people on the committee this year who were on it the last time.
"This year is more of a challenge, that's for sure," he said.
Minot's Out of the Darkness Community Walk to Prevent Suicide is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 8, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Roosevelt Park. People involved in past years wanted the walk to be at Roosevelt Park again, Townsend said. The walk is three miles. On the other walks, they've had a rest stop at the halfway point and a nurse's station, and Townsend said they will probably do that again.
There will be a ceremony before the walk starts, followed by registration from 1 to 2 p.m. Then the walk takes place, and it will end with refreshments. They'd like to do a balloon release, Townsend said, but there's a nationwide shortage of helium. There will also be music at the event, he added.
To participate in the walk, there is no cost, but Townsend said he hopes people will get sponsors to donate. People can walk without raising money, though, he added.
"Walking provides support to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and people. It also gives the opportunity to educate the public that depression and mental disorders are treatable but the leading cause of suicide," he explained.
Half of the money raised during the walk will stay in prevention and supporting services in North Dakota, and the other half will go to the national organization for research and prevention programs.
"The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention doesn't do therapy, just prevention and support," Townsend said. "At the national level, the money goes toward high level research."
On the local level, the money raised from the walk will go toward putting up billboards that tell people how to access help, Townsend said. Also, Townsend said they're trying to start a Survivors of Suicide Loss support group. There are support groups like this in other towns, he noted, but not in Minot. Townsend said they need people to go through facilitator training. Finding people with the right psychological mindset to handle the sensitive area of suicide has been the holdup, he said.
"It's been frustrating, but we have one person now and potentially another one. I think the support group will happen in the near future," he said.
There are three groups of people who typically participate in the walk, Townsend said. The first group consists of the people who have lost someone to suicide. Walking with other people who are in a similar situation, honoring a loved one who's no longer here, and affirming the person's life is a healing experience for the first group participating in the walk, he explained. The second group is the people who have struggled with suicide and are there to provide encouragement. The third group is the people who haven't lost anyone and aren't struggling, but are there to offer support.
"I would hope they come away feeling appreciated. I hope everyone comes away with positive feelings," he said.
Townsend has noticed a dramatic increase in depression and suicide. It's due not only to the flood, he said, but also from the rapid growth of the community. Also, people have moved away, Townsend noted, so some support systems for people are no longer here.
"People who are already desperate or depressed are at a pretty high risk," he said.
So far, there are approximately 45 people registered for the walk, Townsend said. To register for the Out of the Darkness Community Walk to Prevent Suicide, people can go to (www.outofthedarkness.org) and click on the link that says "Find an Event Near You." People can also call Townsend at 837-6508.