by Jessica Lewis
A crowd of people hold hands in a circle around the City Plaza on Oct. 13, bowing their heads as the song “1-800-273-8255” by Logic rings over speakers through downtown, referencing the suicide prevention hotline and marking the end to the ninth annual Chico Out of the Darkness walk.
“I found out about the Out of the Darkness walk because I participated in the Sacramento one after losing a friend to suicide in high school. I went for a few years, and then was like ‘why don’t we have one of these in Chico?’ There were other people that felt the same way and so we started the Chico walk in 2010,” said Ariel Ellis, co-chair for the Out of the Darkness walk and board member for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Out of the Darkness walks were begun by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2014, with only 24 walks in the nation that year. Today, community walks number in the several hundred and attract hundreds of thousands of walkers nationwide. One of the traditions of this event is for people to wear honor beads of specific colors that represent their personal losses or struggles in order to help identify other community members who may be going through the same struggle.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve had severe social anxiety and depression, so coming and doing this meant a lot for me because not only have I struggled but I know people around me are struggling too,” said Morgan Bray, Out of the Darkness attendee who wore a beaded green necklace to participate in the honor beads ceremony. Green represents having “struggled personally.”
“Each heart is a different thing, struggling through a different issue,” Bray said. “For me it’s a personal struggle, so maybe someone here would be able to relate to me and I could help them understand they aren’t alone, or they can help me understand I’m not alone.”
According to the Butte County Community Health Assessment Report for 2015-2017, 30 percent of adults in Butte County are diagnosed with a mood disorder. The suicide rates for the county are also double the national average. The visibility of this community walk helps get resources out there for all of those who may be struggling in the city, as well as raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to be able to keep growing. This year, Chico’s walk included 179 walkers and raised over $170,000.
“In my position as a psychologist at the Chico State Counseling and Wellness Center, I work with students every day that are struggling with mental illness or thoughts of suicide, and so I think the more that we can do to raise awareness and showcase that help is available, the better,” said Stephanie Chervinko, master of ceremonies for this year’s walk.
Chervinko said she’s attended the event since its beginnings in Chico at One Mile in Bidwell Park.
“While that was a great event, I think it’s really exploded exponentially since moving the event downtown,” she said. “The increased visibility and accessibility has made it so there’s much more community involvement and showcasing that this is a community that wants to fight to end suicide.”
Jessica Lewis is a Chico State journalism student interning with ChicoSol.