A leisurely Sunday stroll at Warren County’s Ephram White Park may be just the medicine some folks need.
At least that’s the reasoning of Katelyn Traughber Simpson, organizer of the local “Out of the Darkness” walk that is both a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and an awareness raiser about the issue of suicide.
Simpson, who lost a brother to suicide in 2005, has been involved since 2013 in organizing Warren County’s walk that benefits the AFSP.
Now, with suicide still a front-burner issue even in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Simpson has tweaked the event in a way that she hopes will allow more people to participate.
Instead of a Saturday morning event, the walk will be held Sunday from 2-4 p.m. at Ephram White Park.
“In the fall there’s soccer, football and other things going on that make it hard for people to do a Saturday event,” Simpson said. “So we thought we’d try Sunday afternoon.
“I hope maybe more people can come out if they don’t have to pick and choose from a lot of different events.”
This year’s event will also mark a return to the mass-walk format of the first seven local “Out of the Darkness” walks. Last year, because of the pandemic, the walk was held over two days, with participants walking at a time of their choosing.
Although participation was down, Simpson said last year’s walk still exceeded the goal of raising $10,000 for the AFSP, which uses the money to create and distribute pamphlets, videos and other educational materials aimed at raising awareness about suicide and promoting strategies that can help prevent it.
That awareness is needed, according to the AFSP, because suicide rates are still trending upward.
Statistics on the AFSP website show that 47,511 Americans died by suicide in 2019, making it the 10th-leading cause of death in the country.
The country’s suicide rate of nearly 14 people per 100,000 population is up from a rate of 10.5 people per 100,000 in 1999.
Although preliminary statistics show no big spike in suicides during COVID-19, another local “Out of the Darkness” organizer believes the pandemic has heightened the need for awareness.
“Suicide prevention is more important now than ever,” said Warren County Property Valuation Administrator Susan Oliver Lewis, who has helped with nearly all of the Warren County walks. “The pandemic and being secluded has been really hard for people who struggle with depression.”
Simpson does see some positive trends, maybe partly due to the awareness-raising brought about by the “Out of the Darkness” walks.
“Mental health feels like more of an everyday topic now,” she said. “It’s not so taboo. I know more phone calls are being made (to the AFSP suicide prevention number). More people are reaching out.”
Simpson is also encouraged by the corporate sponsors who have helped the local walk reach its fundraising goal.
She said Cheetah Clean Auto Wash is back as the main sponsor after a year in which its donations of a portion of proceeds added up to $12,000.
In an email, Cheetah Clean Director of Marketing and Public Relations Brandon Thompson said the car wash company dedicated a day to give a percentage of sales to the local "Out of the Darkness" walk.
"We look forward to presenting a large check to AFSP Kentucky at the walk to help them do what they do," Thompson said.
Other sponsors this year are FirstBank, Rivendell Behavioral Health Hospital, LifeSkills and the Hughes and Coleman law firm.
“Having the sponsors makes it much easier to concentrate on the walkers,” Simpson said. “I’m thankful that we continue to have good support.”