The Daily Gamecock

'Out of Darkness' walk supports survivors of suicide

Students, staff to participate in suicide prevention awareness event


The 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. is a preventable one, but that doesn’t make it any less easy to deal with.

Organizers of Sunday’s Out of the Darkness walk hope their efforts will raise awareness of the serious nature of suicide, help remember those who have taken their own lives and give hope to those struggling with suicidal thoughts.

The 5K walk, hosted by the South Carolina chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), is expected to bring hundreds of Columbia residents to the Columbia Riverfront Park.

“We are walking to raise funds for suicide prevention, to address a stigma that gets in the way of people asking for help and in remembrance of loved ones who have lost their lives,” said Helen Pridgen, the South Carolina area director for AFSP.

A closing ceremony following the walk will be geared toward survivors and those who have lost loved ones. There will be a candle lighting in memory of those lost as “a part of survivors taking healing steps,” Pridgen said.

Suicide is third leading cause of death among college-age Americans. Pridgen hopes that college students in the community will feel compelled to become involved in preventing suicide.

“We want students to know these conditions [associated with suicide] are treatable, [and they can] ask for help,” Pridgen said. “Suicide is preventable.”

Jennifer Myers, coordinator of Suicide Services at USC, is the leader of the USC Counseling and Human Development Center team.

Myers said she and her team are joining the walk to support people in the community who have battled with suicidal thoughts or attempts and for those who have lost family or friends to suicide. She encourages students to be aware of signs of depression and suicide talk and to engage in “help-seeking behaviors.”

“I would encourage students not to ignore signs of suicide or suicide talk, and to reach out for help,” Myers said.

At least four teams from USC will participate in Sunday’s event, including teams sponsored by the College of Social Work and the counseling center.

“Traditionally, we’ve had quite a number of college students come to the walk,” Pridgen said.

There is no cost to register for Sunday’s walk, but participating teams are encouraged to raise funds, which will go toward the AFSP’s mission of researching and promoting programs for suicide prevention on both national and local levels. In the past, both USC and Clemson have received research grants from the AFSP, Pridgen said.

The AFSP is the nation’s largest nonprofit supporter of research for suicide prevention. Since 2004, its chapters have organized more than 230 Out of the Darkness walks around the country to raise funds and awareness for suicide prevention. The South Carolina chapter of the AFSP was chartered in October 2008. It has already hosted one Out of the Darkness walk this fall in Spartanburg and will host walks in Myrtle Beach, Bluffton/Hilton Head and Charleston, in addition to Sunday’s event in Columbia.  Last year, the South Carolina chapter raised about $75,000 through walks, and this year it hopes to reach its goal of $100,000, according to Pridgen.

Interested students can preregister for the walk online at or register on site Sunday beginning at 1 p.m. The walk begins at 2 p.m. Students can also donate through the “Text to Donate” campaign by texting “AFSP Columbia” to 85944 now through Dec. 31.