MOUNT LAUREL, NJ – The threat of rain did not keep hundreds from participating in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Community Walk at Laurel Acres Park in Mount Laurel on Saturday.
Interest in the walk, which was first held in Mount Laurel in 2016, continues to grow, from “maybe 250 people the first year to usually having between 400 and 450 (walkers),” Kyra Berry, Township resident and chair of the Mount Laurel walk, told TAPinto Mount Laurel.
During the walk’s opening ceremony, State Senator Troy Singleton and Mount Laurel Township Mayor Stephen Steglik emphasized how important it is for those thinking about suicide to get help and that mental illness affects everyone, regardless of their social standing.
Mount Laurel Township Councilwoman Karen Cohen presented Berry with a proclamation for Berry’s work organizing the walk. Cohen also noted that suicide is the 15th leading cause of death in New Jersey and that there are twice as many suicides as homicides in the Garden State.
Walk participants were encouraged to take three laps around the park but could walk more or less than that number, Berry said. Many participants wore different colored beads as they walked, with each color representing the wearer’s connection to suicide, such as a friend, parent, military member or first responder, Berry added.
Among those walking was Pat Welch of Shamong, who said her 22-year-old son, Tanner, died by suicide.
She said she walks to pay tribute to him and raise awareness that you “cannot always tell who is thinking about suicide… sometimes that person will have a smile on their face.”
Berry, who said she has had mental health issues through the years, said comments that walk participants made and the event's large turnout are a step toward ending the stigmatization of suicide.
“This… is really starting the conversation between people in the community about how mental health is as important and as crucial as physical health.”
Collectively, Mount Laurel walk participants had raised about $25,000 as of the walk’s start time, Berry said. Welch’s walking team, named after her son, had raised about $2,700, the most money any team had raised as of Saturday morning for the event. Since 2016, Mount Laurel walk participants have raised about $250,000.
“Those funds go towards that research, education, prevention and advocacy efforts," said Berry.
TAPinto Mount Laurel and TAPinto Bordentown were among the walk's sponsors, as were Hampton Behavioral Health Center, Wawa, PSE&G, Holman and Senator Troy Singleton.