Jones Beach walk helps bring suicide ‘Out of the Darkness’

Many students took part in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness fundraiser at Jones Beach State Park Oct. 22. // Photo by Sam Schultz/Long Island Advocate

By Sam Schultz

With frigid temperatures and gusty winds prevailing, the over 2,000 participants in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walk at Jones Beach wore gloves, jackets and sweatshirts Oct. 22 as they traversed the state park’s boardwalk for the annual fundraiser.

In 2021, more than 48,000 Americans died by suicide, or one person every 11 minutes, making it the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2022, the figure was a little over 44,000 Americans.    

The walk raised $400,000 for suicide prevention, with more than 250 teams taking part, including teams from Hofstra and Long Island universities. Walk Chair Ann Morrison told the crowd from the podium, “ By walking with us, you’re helping to fund innovative and exciting research that’s going to enable us to find better ways to stop suicide.” 

Over the past year, she noted, the organization invested $8.2 million in scientific research.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention // Graph by Sam Schultz/Long Island Advocate

At the same time the walk was a fundraiser, it also gave participants hope. Attending for the first time, volunteer Chris Tafone helped register people for the event. “I think it’s wonderful . . . We need to bring suicide prevention to the forefront. Mental health is important. It’s important that we know that people support this, people care. We need to turn the tide in terms of the statistics, which are getting worse, to show that this is a national health priority.”

Source: CDC // Chart by Sam Schultz/Long Island Advocate

Walk Chair Phil Bianco, who has been involved with AFSP since 2016, spoke about the importance of the event to him. “I’ve lost family and friends due to suicide, so it’s really important that we help to try and save lives. I come out every year to support and let people know that they’re not alone and there’s help out there.”

Lauren Young holding a Hope board. // Photo by Sam Schultz/Long Island Advocate

Stefanie Stadler and Lauren Young from Sunshine Therapy, a private mental health practice in Smithtown, held a Hope board from which participants could grab Post-it notes with encouraging messages.  

Members of Rolling Thunder, a veterans advocacy organization, just before the walk got under way. // Photo by Sam Schultz/Long Island Advocate

Andrea Nordquist and her colleagues from the Long Island chapter of Rolling Thunder, a national veterans organization, held signs that read, “Stop Veteran Suicide.” The group advocates for prisoners of war and those missing in action, holding numerous fundraisers throughout the year in support of veterans and their families. Its signature event is the Ride for Freedom, in which participants ride motorcycles in a rally to support POW/MIA and veterans issues.  

Before the walk began, Bianco and Morrison stood center stage at a  ceremony emphasizing the importance of suicide prevention and awareness. The top fundraising teams were met with rounds of applause as their names were announced one by one.

The bead ceremony, above and below, was an emotional moment for participants on stage as their names and their relations to suicide were announced. // Photo by Sam Schultz/Long Island Advocate

There was a bead ceremony as well in which participants raised beaded necklaces in the air. “There are different color beads depending on your connection to suicide, depending on your loss,” Tafone said. “There’s a different color bead for the type of person that you’ve lost. The blue is if you haven’t lost anyone but you support the cause.”

Participants wore different colored necklaces depending on their relations to suicide. // Photo by Sam Schultz/Long Island Advocate

Participants teared up as the names of participants on the stage and their relations to suicide were announced. Some had lost a brother or sister to suicide, others a child. Through the ceremony, participants could see they were not alone in their sorrow. 

Thereafter, the thousands of participants made their way to the starting line for the walk.