On the day hundreds will participate in the Out of the Darkness walk in Gulfport in September, at least one Mississippian will die by suicide.
And another one the day after that. And the day after that.
A person dies by suicide an average of every 23 hours in the state, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The AFSP is a national nonprofit organization that works to prevent suicide through research, education and advocacy.
Last year, more than 300 people participated in the AFSP Mississippi chapter’s first walk on the Coast, which raised close to $18,000. Money from the walk and donations help fund suicide-prevention programs.
This year, organizers anticipate at least 500 people will sign up for the Sept. 10 walk, which will start at the Ken Combs Pier parking area at Courthouse Road and U.S. 90. Walkers will head east along the boardwalk and turn around at the Armed Forces Retirement Home. The entire walk is close to a 5K, which is 3.1 miles.
Online registration at afsp.org/mississippi closes at noon Friday, Sept. 9. Participants can register at the walk beginning at 8 a.m. The walk begins at 9 a.m. and activities will continue until noon.
One of the walk’s organizers, Theresa Danko of Diamondhead, will be there. She also was there last year in remembrance of her son, Sebastian, who took his own life five years ago. He was 19.
In Mississippi, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people 15 to 24 years old, according to the AFSP. It is the 12th leading cause of death among all ages in the state.
Out of the Darkness walks are held nationwide, bringing together loved ones of those who have died and those who have had thoughts of suicide or who have attempted suicide. Anyone who wants to support suicide prevention is invited to participate, and volunteers are needed for the walk and the AFSP Mississippi chapter.
Three other walks are planned in north and central Mississippi in September and October.
Danko is a board member of the AFSP Mississippi chapter, which formed in August 2015. All board members are volunteers.
She has a goal to speak, even if just briefly, at this year’s Coast walk.
“When you are able to talk about your story and be open with it, that’s part of the healing,” Danko said, “and it helps others as well.”
Danko speaks to students and school boards about suicide-prevention programs. She works to get school districts to participate in the AFSP’s More than Sad program, which teaches students, teachers and parents how to be smart about mental health.
Money from the walks will help put the program in schools for free.
She said she is surprised the program is not more widespread.
“Some schools think they don’t have a problem with suicide,” Danko said. “How many more have to die before they admit it?”
Mississippi Gulf Coast Out of the Darkness walk
What: The walk raises money for suicide prevention programs. This is the second annual walk.
When: 9 a.m. Sept. 10
Where: Ken Combs Pier, Courthouse Road and U.S. 90, Gulfport
Distance: Turnaround is at the Armed Forces Retirement Home. The entire walk is close to a 5K, which is 3.1 miles.
Registration: Online at afsp.org/mississippi through noon Sept. 9. Registration will also be available at the walk starting at 8 a.m.
More information: Check out the event’s page on Facebook