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Friday, 25 September 2015 10:32

Elkhorn walk aims to raise suicide awareness

Written by  Dennis Hines
Michael and Diane Michalek are helping to organize the Oct. 3 Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk in Elkhorn. Their daughter, Alyssa, committed suicide in 2011. The couple hope to bring awareness to the problem of suicide and help raise money for prevention. Michael and Diane Michalek are helping to organize the Oct. 3 Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk in Elkhorn. Their daughter, Alyssa, committed suicide in 2011. The couple hope to bring awareness to the problem of suicide and help raise money for prevention. Dennis Hines

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Diane and Michael Michalek lost their 22-year-old daughter, Alyssa, to suicide about four years ago. Now the Delavan couple has helped organize a walk in her memory to help others who have lost a loved one to suicide or people who are struggling with thoughts of suicide.

The Walworth County Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk will be held Saturday, Oct. 3, at the Walworth County Fairgrounds in Elkhorn. Registration begins at 8 a.m., an opening ceremony with a balloon release will be at 9 a.m. and the walk begins at 9:30 a.m. People also can register for the two-mile walk by going online to afsp.org/walk.

“We’re calling it a walk of reflection because it’s only two miles,” said Karen Oglesby, who is serving as event co-chair with Diane Michalek.

The purpose of the walk is to raise awareness about suicide and to raise money for suicide prevention and awareness programs. The Michaleks have been working with the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services to start an Out of the Darkness walk for several years, Diane said.

This is the first year that an Out of the Darkness walk will be held in Walworth County.

“I wanted to do something because when we lost our daughter, our family, friends, co-workers and community were so loving and supportive and giving to our family,” Diane said. “We kind of want to give back to the community in some way, and we thought this would be a good way to start giving back.”

Diane said she and her husband recently participated in an Out of the Darkness walk in Madison. The walk gives people an opportunity to honor their loved ones and to interact with others who have been affected by suicide.

“It was pretty amazing seeing family members and friends get together and they will have matching T-shirts,” Diane said. “They will have pictures (of their loved one) as they walk.”

Michael Michalek said he hopes the walk will encourage people to talk about suicide.

“I think an event like this helps start the discussion …” Michael said. “People just don’t talk about it. My awareness has been raised, because I get the impression now that this is more prevalent in our society than what I thought it was.”

Since organizing the walk, the couple have met other people who have been affected by suicide.

“Since we’ve started the walk, I bet you I have heard of at least six people who have taken their lives,” Diane said. “It not only affects the family of the person who took their life, but it affects the community, as well.”

Oglesby said people who struggle with thoughts of suicide have offered to volunteer during the event.

“We had people call us and thank us for doing this,” Oglesby said. “We’ve had somebody who suffers, and she not only called to thank us for doing this but she’s going to be volunteering with us, and she’s very excited because she’s struggling right now.”

Oglesby said many people have expressed an interest in the walk.

“We’re pretty overwhelmed with the support that we’ve received from our community,” Oglesby said. “We were going to be happy if we had a hundred walkers, and we’ve got about 155 people signed up already and I’ve got people calling me every day asking if they could put a team together.

“I think we’re going to have at least 250 walkers. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had 300 walkers ... “

The cost to participate in the walk is a donation. People who raise at least $150 will receive a T-shirt.

“If they want to donate $5, they can donate $5,” Oglesby said. “If they want to show up and support the cause, we would love to have them.”

Besides the walk, the event will include a silent auction with items donated from local businesses and informational booths about services that are available to people who have been affected by suicide or who are dealing with depression.

“We want people to know that they’re not alone in their suffering,” Oglesby said. “If somebody has experienced a loss or if somebody has mental health issues or if somebody has attempted taking their own life, that they’re not alone.

“There’s support and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Wisconsin and in the United States. About 41,149 suicides were reported in the United States in 2013, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Oglesby said the actual number of suicides might be even higher because some drug and alcohol overdoses might have not been reported as suicides.

“The number might actually be higher than what has been reported, because there has to be a clear indication that it is a suicide in order to report it as such,” Oglesby said.

Diane said she hopes events such as the Out of the Darkness walk can help reduce the trend.

“If we can save one person’s life from this walk, then our job was done as far as getting the word out there and educating people as far as the signs to look for,” Diane said.

“We’ve attracted more avenues of resources than we thought we would,” Michael said. “I think that’s what’s going to help to turn this into an annual event.”

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