In honor of National Suicide Prevention Week, the Nebraska chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention holds its annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk [link] in Omaha on September 12 and in two other locations in Nebraska later in the month. In its sixth year, the Omaha walk is the second largest Out of the Darkness Walk in the country with more than 1400 participants last year.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment to get as many walkers as we do to come out to support suicide prevention awareness.” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Nebraska chapter chairman Joyce Hicks said. “The first walk we had in Omaha had right around 100 participants, so we’ve seen tremendous growth in the last six years. We’ve been extremely lucky to have support from walkers to help generate awareness, and we’re grateful; now our focus is on increasing donations.”
Funds raised from the Out of the Darkness Walk go to support further research and education in suicide prevention. In addition to sponsoring support group training for individuals who express interest, the AFSP Nebraska chapter offers suicide prevention programs at the collegiate and high school levels.
In use for the past year at Creighton University, the Internet Screening Program (ISP) is an online utility that students can use to assess their current mental state to help determine if they are suffering from depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, or some other mental health issue. Students can either conduct a Live Chat with a counselor or complete an online questionnaire that goes directly to the university counseling department. A counselor is then able to follow up with the student directly.
At the high school level AFSP does outreach and works to get the “More Than Sad” DVD, an educational video focusing on various causes of depression and applicable treatment plans, added to the curriculum. Currently the video is being shown in Plattsmouth High School and is part of the freshmen and senior class curriculum.
The “More than Sad” DVD portrays various situations or activities that can cause stress or lead to depression in a young person’s life and shows students possible coping mechanisms. From anxiety over an upcoming test to depression surrounding relationships and miscommunication, the video was created from the students’ perspective so students are better able to relate to the situations and understand their own feelings as Hicks says.
“There are a lot of misconceptions and stigmas around depression. The DVD is truly about educating and expanding students’ horizons so they understand what they are feeling about what they are going through and some of the treatment plans that are available,” Hicks said.
In addition to the school-based programs, AFSP sponsors a billboard campaign in Omaha focused on overcoming the stigma associated with depression so people understand that depression can be fatal. Billboards run throughout the year in various locations across town.
The organization hopes an increase in walk donations this year will allow them to initiate new programs including expansion of the Internet Screening Program to the University of Nebraska at Omaha and implementation of a Survivor Outreach Program, which is a support program for family members or loved ones who have recently lost someone to suicide.
“The more we get out there, the more people we reach, the more education we provide, the bigger the impact we’ll have in increasing awareness of suicide prevention and decreasing the stigma of depression and other mental health issues,” Hicks said. “We’re out there doing all of this so no one else who will ever feel the pain suicide causes.” Hicks said.
To participate in one of the Nebraska 2010 Out of the Darkness Walks visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Web site or contact Joyce Hicks at NebraskaAFSP@gmail.com for more information.