AFSP hopes to pull community Out of Darkness with charity walk

Lauren Duncan, Senior Staff Reporter

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The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will host the Out of the Darkness New Orleans Walk Oct. 26 in Audubon Park. The event will provide mental health resources to the community and offer an opportunity for people to donate to AFSP so it can reach its goal of promoting mental health in communities across the nation. 

AFSP’s goal is to reduce the annual suicide rate 20% by 2025. According to Leigh Ann Raab, AFSP’s area director for Louisiana and Mississippi, the organization plans to meet this goal by funding research into suicide, advocating policy changes and training community members on how to manage mental health crises. 

According to Raab, the foundation has already made changes in Louisiana’s access to mental health. This year, AFSP worked with state representatives to amend the Jason Flatt Act, which requires teachers to have mental health training but failed to include a mechanism to ensure the training was completed. 

“So we wrote an amendment to that that … [proves] they’re compliant with it,” Raab said. “It also required all secondary and high schools to print the suicide hotline and a text-crisis line on the back of the school IDs … We’re already seeing schools complying.”

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In addition to advocating policy changes, AFSP funds suicide prevention trainings available to anyone in Louisiana. 

“We teach a class called ‘Safe Talk,’ which is a three-hour suicide prevention training class,” Raab said. “We will go anywhere anybody wants us to have a class. We’re completely mobile. Everything we do is free because it’s paid for by the funds we raised in the Out of the Darkness walks.“ 

With the Out of the Darkness Walk, Raab says she hopes the community will understand that they are not alone — that at this event, people will understand what it’s like to lose a loved one from suicide or to struggle themselves. For the Tulane community specifically, Raab said removing the stigma around mental health will make the community safer.

“I would encourage people to realize that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help, there’s nothing wrong with seeing a therapist, there’s nothing wrong with seeing a counselor, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having to take an antidepressant,” Raab said. “You’re not alone. If you’re struggling, you should reach out to somebody.”

Students or community members interested in volunteering with AFSP can assist with the walk on Saturday, Oct. 26, or apply to become a board member for the New Orleans chapter. Those interested in volunteering locally can contact Leigh Ann Raab at [email protected]. AFSP also provides a way for community members to get closely involved with policy via its advocacy program, where those interested can implore legislators to support certain legislation. 

“Even though we are remembering people we’ve lost, we’re all still here, and while we’re here, we can make a difference.”