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Ending the stigma: Dickinson to host Out of the Darkness Walk for suicide awareness

Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, yet suicide can be prevented. Volunteers from Dickinson are highlighting suicide prevention efforts with an Out of the Darkness Community Walk this Saturday.

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DICKINSON — Hundreds of thousands of Americans lace up their shoes each September, walking in towns and cities across the United States, drawing attention to the fight against suicide. This year in Dickinson, volunteers will come together for the annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention North Dakota Chapter will host the event from 9 a.m. to noon, on September 17, at the West River Ice Center in Dickinson. Samantha Christopherson, area director for both the North and South Dakota chapters, said individuals from Summit Counseling will be on-site to provide information about their resources. Admission is free and walkers can register day of, or online at afsp.org/dickinson.

Christopherson said there’s power in numbers, so she wants as many locals as possible to show up and support the cause. Last year the Dickinson walk raised more than $30,000. The conversations prompted by these events raise awareness to the travesty of troubled individuals dying by suicide, she said, noting that AFSP is the leading fundraiser for mental health research.

“If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, you know that it’s a very unique type of grief. It’s so important that loss survivors know they are supported,” she said. “We need our communities to know that mental health and suicide prevention are priorities.”

According the CDC, suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly 46,000 Americans took their lives in 2020, 135 of whom were North Dakotans. That year the U.S. saw an estimated 1.2 million suicide attempts.


After this, read more community news
The Kind Hearts Project is hosting its signature event this Saturday, Sept. 24. The entire community is encouraged to attend, especially parents with young children.

Carla Anton, co-chair of Dickinson’s Out of the Darkness Walk committee, said working with AFSP has been a wonderful experience.

“It has been incredibly rewarding. I guess I my connection, I have lost family members, friends and other loved ones to suicide. I have also struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past," Anton said. "Unfortunately, almost everybody I know has some kind of connection to this cause."

Anton said she feels overwhelmed by the generosity of Dickinson businesses and individuals who’ve volunteered so much time and money to boost mental health awareness.

During a Belfield City Council meeting earlier this year, Stark County Sheriff Corey lamented an increase of suicides in the area and explained that calls regarding suicidal males often place law enforcement in a tough situation. He acknowledged the obvious problem of doing nothing, but also noted that if he deploys officers that creates the potential for a ‘suicide by cop’ situation.

“We have to do our due diligence and at least attempt to deal with that individual or help him. I think across the United States as a whole, departments don't have time for that, number one, especially in bigger cities,” Lee said. “Number two, they just don't want to deal with it. And I think that's the wrong answer.”

Lisa Stolz of Dickinson is another volunteer who’s helped with organizing the event and explained why it’s so important to her.

“My brother died by suicide in 1983. At that time the stigma was… you just didn’t talk about it. That’s what bothered me for years. It was just like, he was kind of gone and nobody said anything for a long time,” Stolz said.

She added that volunteering with AFSP has prompted conversations with family members about the loss. She said she hopes to further erase the stigma and that no one should be ashamed to open up about their adversity with mental health.


While there are positive outcomes from the increasing societal openness about and destygmetization of suicide, there are downsides too. Media outlets should be cautious in how they cover the phenomenon. When a prominent individual such as Robin Williams or Kurt Cobain commits suicide, it can trigger a wave of emulation — particularly when those struggling notice the deceased being showered with praise and veneration.

This unfortunate mimicry of heavily publicized suicide is called the Werther Effect. In a 1774 German novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” the main character shoots himself after being rejected by the woman he loved. A noticeable spike in suicides followed its publication.

Anyone who feels they may be at risk or needs a listening ear is advised to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit the AFSP website.

More by Jason O'Day
The annual Dickinson Food Truck Rodeo will be hosted at an all new location this year, in conjunction with a Farmer’s Market and other foodie opportunities.

Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in rural southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge.
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