With a suicide rate that is nearly twice that of the national average, Montana has the highest suicide rate in the nation. It is almost impossible to find someone who hasn’t been affected by mental illness. Perhaps that is why it comes as no surprise that an event working to combat suicide was met with such enthusiastic support from the Bozeman community.
Out of the Darkness, a walk designed to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention, took place on Saturday, Sept. 17. Out of the Darkness walks take place all over the United States, but this was the first one to be hosted in Bozeman. The beneficiary of this event is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Bozeman walk hoped to raise $20,000 to donate to the cause. As of Saturday morning, they had raised over $35,000.
“Sometimes it feels like there’s that huge stigma around mental health, and we don’t really know how the community is supportive, and what they’re doing, and how we can bring it together,” Event Coordinator Jenna Londynsky said. “But having this many people participate, and seeing how much [money] was raised, really speaks volumes about support in our community.”
Over 350 people participated in Saturday’s walk — and that is only taking into account the people who were actually on site at the Gallatin County Regional Park. For those who could not make it to the actual event but still wanted to help with fundraising, there was the option to participate as a “virtual walker.” Going hand-in-hand with coordinated team t-shirts and brightly colored green wristbands were buttons pinned to the chests of those who had lost someone to suicide, buttons that began with “I walk for …” and ended with a name.
After a brief introduction from Londynsky, who is also an adult case manager at the Gallatin Mental Health Center, U.S. Senator Steve Daines took the stage and offered his praise of the Out of the Darkness walk. Following Daines was reigning Mrs. Montana International, Sara Dukart. Dukart, who ran for Mrs. Montana on a platform of destigmatizing mental illness, shared a deeply personal anecdote about her own struggles with mental illness and a past suicide attempt.
From there, participants began the walk, which crisscrossed the park and amounted to approximately 2.5 miles. Signs listing facts and statistics about suicide and suicide prevention dotted the trail. The line of walkers stretched so far that, when one was standing in the middle of the pack, it was difficult to see either the beginning or the end of the line.
After the walk, participants were treated to a barbeque, which is another example of the outpouring of support Out of the Darkness received: all of the food was donated by Walmart. In addition to Walmart’s donations, coffee was provided by Yellowstone Coffee Roasters and all printed materials were provided by Smiling Moose and Sign Solutions.
Londynsky also emphasized the multitude of resources available to those struggling with their mental health in Bozeman. “There are amazing resources here — Gallatin Mental Health Center, the Help Center, Youth Dynamics, Montana State Counseling and Psychological Services … they’re all there to help, and really, it starts with talking about it.”
Londynsky plans on Out of the Darkness becoming an annual event.