Thousands Walk Through Night For Suicide Prevention

By: Sophia Silletto - Sat, 09 Jun 2012 21:41:20 -0800

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) -- Thousands are walking nearly 20 miles through the streets of San Francisco tonight and into early Sunday morning to promote awareness about
suicide prevention.

      The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention holds the annual
Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk in different cities as part of their
national efforts to raise money for suicide prevention research, advocacy and
education and awareness programs.

      This year the 18-mile trek, which begins at Fort Mason at sunset
and continues through sunrise back at the former U.S. Army post, will be back
in San Francisco after it was last held here in 2006.

      AFSP executive director Robert Gebbia said more than 2,000 people
have registered for this year's walk, each pledging to raise at least $1,000.
Participants from the Bay Area, the state, and across the U.S. have signed up
to walk in memory of someone lost to suicide or for their own struggles with
depression or mental disorders.

      Hundreds of volunteers will keep walkers hydrated, nourished and
safe as the crowd winds through city streets, past AT&T Park and back toward
the Marina District by early morning.

      Gebbia said the foundation expects to raise more than $2.1 million
by the end of the walk, some of which will go toward education programs
including screenings at college campuses and efforts at the high school

      "We want to create a lot of awareness that there's a huge problem
with suicide in our country," the executive director said.

      According to the foundation, each year 1 million people make a
suicide attempt and nearly 37,000 die by suicide in the U.S.

      The fundraising walk is healing for the walkers, Gebbia said,
especially since there is a stigma around suicide, which is the tenth leading
cause of death in the U.S.

      The Overnight aims to reveal that suicide is like any other
complication of illness, Gebbia explained. Things can go wrong with the lungs
or heart -- with suicide, something is going wrong inside the brain.

      "You can walk for suicide like you can walk for breast cancer, HIV
or AIDS," he said. "We are taking it out of darkness and out of secrecy."

      A key point in educating about suicide is learning that "this is
not somebody's fault," Gebbia said. "You don't blame people if they have

      Walker Ken Wang, 46, is walking for his sister who killed herself
in March 2010. This is his first Overnight trek, but he managed to raise
$7,000, far exceeding the $1,000 goal.

      Wang, a stay-at-home dad in Menlo Park, said he had been looking
for an outlet to help with more suicide research. His sister was a doctor and
he noted the unnerving trend of physician suicides and how little is known
about its cause.

      Wang will wear a shirt with his sister's picture ironed to the
back as he treks through the city and although he says her suicide was hard
to talk about initially, it's important for him to be part of this walk and
involved. He said suicide is often "spoken about in hushed tones, secretly"
which he hopes will change, perhaps as he symbolically walks each mile as the
sun starts to rise.

      The overnight journey begins with opening ceremonies at 6:30 p.m.
at Fort Mason with guest speakers including KGO radio host Brian Copeland,
who has struggled with depression. A brief closing ceremony at Fort Mason
early Sunday morning will announce total fundraising numbers before the
walkers get some rest.

      For anyone in a crisis call the National Suicide Prevention
Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255). Other resources are available at the
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at

(Copyright 2012, Bay City News, All Rights Reserved)
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