Sunday will mark the fifth version of Butte’s Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk, which each year brings together people who have a common experience.
That shared experience is the loss of a loved one to suicide.
Walk organizers Nikki Heard and Dorea Wilmoth know the pain of losing a loved one to suicide.
In 2014, Heard’s nephew and the brother of Wilmoth’s best friend took his own life at just 18 years of age.
The two describe Heard’s nephew as a fun-loving boy who could be a bit of a goofball at times.
Just days before Heard’s nephew took his own life, Wilmoth said, he had reserved a venue for his high-school graduation party and was making preparations for senior prom.
Weeks after his death, Wilmoth joined a suicide prevention walk in Helena – because, she said, she felt as though she needed to take action.
“It just felt like something I needed to do,” said Wilmoth.
There she met the chair of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Montana chapter, whose national organization sponsors the Out of the Darkness Community Walks campaign. Wilmoth went on to organize Butte’s first Out of the Darkness walk, and today she is the chair of Montana’s AFSP organization.
Sunday’s walk is being called the Out of the Darkness Community Walk: Walk to fight Suicide. It begins at 1 p.m. at the Butte Chamber of Commerce, 1000 George St. and is a fundraiser for the AFSP organization, which provides education and resources to communities across the country. The organization also advocates for legislation geared toward suicide prevention and funds suicide prevention research.
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Wilmoth noted that Montana has the highest suicide rate among all states in the country, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death in the state for ages 25 to 44, according to 2017 statistics.
Suicide spans generations, geography and socio-economic class, and the loss of a loved one to suicide can happen to someone from any background. What’s more, there’s not just one cause.
“It’s not easy to just wave a magic wand and have all the answers,” she said.
This year, over 350 communities will host Out of the Darkness walks. Seven of those communities are in Montana.
Heard and Wilmoth said the walk has served in years past as a powerful reminder of just how many families have been touched by suicide.
“Just seeing how many other people are out there going through the same thing you are… It’s kind of eye-opening,” said Heard.
“And humbling,” said Wilmoth.
During the walk, participants will be able to create art to honor a loved one or to send a message of hope. They’ll also have the option of wearing “honor beads” – beads of different colors that represent different facets of experience: one color for the loss of a child, another color for the loss of a spouse, and many more.
The event, however, isn’t somber, the two said. It’s about hope and taking action to prevent the loss of another life.
“If you can prevent one suicide, it’s worth it,” said Heard.