The number of people taking their own lives in the United States, and in almost every state, is increasing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2005, 32,637 Americans died by suicide, while in 2016, the most recent year for which the CDC have data, that number had risen to 44,695.
In Maryland, 472 people took their own lives in 2005, per the CDC. The number was 586 in 2016.
But numbers can be difficult to relate in the same way you might relate to a loved one. Just ask Stephanie Moscati, of Baltimore: she lost her cousin, Madison Overfelt, to suicide in September 2016.
“Before we lost Madison, I don’t want to say that I didn’t think that suicide was bad, but it hadn’t touched my life, it hadn’t really touched the lives of anyone I knew. I didn’t really understand how prevalent it actually was,” Moscati said. “He was just a few days way from turning 17, so it was a pretty big loss.”
That November, Moscati and her family walked in the Baltimore Out of the Darkness Walk, which, like many such walks held across the country, raises awareness and funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a nonprofit dedicated to research, and supporting families and suicide survivors.
This year, Moscati and her family are walking in the 3rd annual Carroll County Out of the Darkness Walk, to be held at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 8, in Krimgold Park in Woodbine. The walk begins at 10 a.m., takes place on a 1.5-mile paved trail or 2.5-mile trail that is partially grassy, and ends at 1 p.m.
“It’s very important for us,” Moscati said. “It’s a way for not only us to come together with each other and celebrate Madison’s life and our love for Madison, but also to raise awareness and be around others who have been through the same thing and believe in the same cause.”
Last year’s walk drew more than 375 walkers and raised more than $42,000, according to walk organizer Lori Barnard-Lowe.
Those are funds that go to help the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in its goal of reducing the rate of suicide in the U.S. by 20 percent by 2025. The national suicide rate increased by 25.4 percent between 1999 and 2016, according to the CDC.
But the walk isn’t just about raising funds to help prevent suicide, it’s also a vehicle for supporting those who have suffered a loss. People like Rob Andrews, of Linthicum Heights, who lost his daughter Alexandria to suicide on May 23, 2015. He first participated in the Carroll County walk in 2017.
“I am from Carroll County originally, so I am real redneck-ish and stuff, so it’s not easy talking about your feelings,” he said. “But it was a relief after doing it and walking around with other people.”
The central metaphor behind the walk, that of coming out of darkness into light, means it’s important to talk about suicide and mental illness and our sometimes difficult feelings about them, Moscati said.
“It’s a dark topic and people don’t want to talk about it, it’s uncomfortable,” she said. “But we have to have those uncomfortable conversations because I think the more we talk about it, the easier it is to talk about, and hopefully we can save some lives.
This year, both Andrews and Moscati helped spread awareness outside the Out of the Darkness Walk community by participating in a walk T-shirt design contest. The shirts for Team Madman, “Madman” being Moscati’s family’s nickname for Madison, and Andrews’s Team Alexandria, came in first and second place respectively.
“It was a great way to get more involvement, we saw a huge increase of ‘likes’ on our Facebook page and each team gained more members and raised more money,” Barnard-Lowe said of the T-shirt contest. “It was definitely exciting watching the votes. They were really close until the end.”
It’s not too late for those interested in registering a team for the walk — visit afsp.donordrive.com/walks and search for walks in Maryland to pull up the Carroll County walk — and people are welcome to register the day of beginning at 8:30 a.m.
An ongoing fundraiser is also taking place at Glory Days, in Eldersburg, according to Barnard-Lowe, with itemized receipts from meals to be turned in at the walk or emailed to Carrollcountyootd@gmail.com.
For more information, contact Barnard-Lower at 240-674-4538 or Carrollcountyootd@gmail.com.