FARGO — Organizers for a suicide prevention event in Fargo that started 14 years ago with a couple hundred people expect more than 2,000 walkers to participate Sunday, Sept. 15, bringing awareness to the public health issue while sending the message that no one who has been touched by suicide is alone.
Nearly 1,600 individuals and about 140 teams had signed up as of Thursday afternoon, Sept. 12, for the Out of the Darkness Fargo-Moorhead Area Walk, an annual event hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention North Dakota Chapter.
The walk has raised more than $95,000 of the $150,000 goal, according to the AFSP website. Organizers expect more donations will come in, and hundreds more people likely will sign up before the walk program starts at 2 p.m. Sunday at Scheels Arena, 5225 31st Ave. S., said Brenda Weiler, board member for the North Dakota Chapter.
“There’s just nothing really quite like that,” Weiler said, calling the event empowering. “Just to be with literally hundreds or thousands of people who know exactly how you feel and have been through this, I think it’s just one of the best things that you can do.”
Weiler and her family organized the first walk in 2005, a year after she lost her sister, 33-year-old Jennifer Weiler, to suicide. The couple hundred people involved in that first event raised more than $20,000.
“We had really no concept of what it was going to become, but we were very moved by the support of the community and just the openness of people, even that long ago,” Weiler said.
That inspired the family to form the North Dakota Chapter of the AFSP and participation for the walk has grown every year, Weiler said.
The organization holds several events throughout the year and accepts donations until Dec. 31, but the walk is its largest undertaking, Weiler said. The AFSP also hosts several walks in other North Dakota cities.
Suicide was North Dakota’s eighth leading cause of death in 2017, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With a rate of 20.5 deaths per 100,000, the state ranked 10th in the U.S. that year.
North Dakota also recorded a nearly 58% increase in suicide rates from 1999 to 2016, the sharpest rise in the country, the CDC said.
It’s hard to find a person not impacted by suicide, said Alison Traynor, suicide prevention program administrator for the state Department of Human Services.
“We’re seeing that more and more people are very passionate about this issue,” she said.
The support for the event can be overwhelming, according to Weiler, who said it brings awareness to suicide, which took 144 lives in North Dakota last year, according to the Human Services Department. The walk also gives those impacted by the public health issue a chance to honor those they have lost while supporting each other, Weiler said.
Losing her sister felt isolating at the time, Weiler said, noting the stigma of suicide. But there have been strides to educate the public, discuss prevention in the open and help those impacted by suicide not feel ashamed, she added.
“Nobody wants to feel alone in their grief and no one wants to feel alone in their experience,” Weiler said.
The deadline to sign up online is noon Friday, Sept. 13, but people can register in person starting at noon Sunday. A program before the walk will be held at 2 p.m. For more information on the event, go to: bit.ly/2kxy3Eg.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can provide support, information and local resources to those struggling with suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call 800-273-8255. More resources are available at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.