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Coming out of the dark

The people gathered at the Willow Bay area of Onondaga Lake Park paid little attention to the pouring rain Saturday, focused only on the cause that drew them there. Perhaps the weather was suitable, given the nature of that cause: depression and suicide.

Those who came to the park on Aug. 19 did so to take part in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk, one of 70 such walks to be held nationwide between now and October. The three-kilometer walk (or run, for those who so desired), the first of its kind in the Syracuse area, was held to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention and depression treatment programs. Organized nationally by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the local event was chaired by Debra Graham.

"It's a combination of things," Graham said of the walk's purpose. "It's to bring people out of the darkness who suffer from mental illness. People with depression feel so ostracized It's [also] to diminish the stigma associated with mental illness, because there is still a stigma attached that people with physical illnesses don't face. Plus, the money raised goes to national and local programs that deal with research and education."

The AFSP is the only nonprofit organization in the nation dedicated to suicide prevention and education, and these walks are their main source of funding. So far, the group has raised over $100,000 to be funneled into advocacy and research projects dedicated to breaking the silence surrounding suicide.

It's a silence Graham knows all too well; her 17-year-old son, Justin, took his own life three years ago. Searching for a place to channel her grief, Graham discovered the AFSP and its Out of the Darkness walks. The first walk in the state was held in Long Island in on Justin's birthday in 2004.

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