Out of The Darkness

Families and friends come together this Sunday to participate in the Out of The Darkness walk.


Jeremiah Jeno, Writer

A sad but all too common occurrence today in the lives of teenagers is poor mental health. Depression, as wide of a field that is, has found a way to slither into the brains of young adults heavily in recent years.   

This year, the Out of The Darkness walk has been organized and set up to take place September 25th, 2022. The teams will meet at the North Dakota State Capitol grounds in the northwest parking lot of the building for check in. 

“The event is on Sunday at the state capitol grounds, in the northwest parking lot. Activities start at noon so we’ll have food trucks, we’ll have a photography station, a memory wall. We’ll have different activities and our ceremony will start at 2:00 and we’ll start to walk after that,” said Christopherson.

The Bismarck chapter has hosted these events for 16 years.

“The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is a national organization that is built up by a series of chapters, which is sort of the best of both worlds, we have this power and expertise of a national organization, but we’re doing things locally on the local level,” AFSP staff member Samantha Christopherson said, who worked with the Bismarck committee for the event on Sunday.

The walks themselves were created in 2004 to raise awareness for mental health. 

“AFSP was founded in 1987 so it seems that when talking about other health groups we’re actually very very young, our North Dakota chapter was chartered about 16 years ago, and we’re slowly growing.” said Christopherson, “Personally I’ve been involved with the chapter for about seven years, but I’ve been a suicide prevention advocate basically my entire life. When my dad passed away no one talked about my dad, and I didn’t understand why we didn’t talk about my dad. And then when Emily passed away, I was always looking for a way to honor her. I just didn’t know how,” said Christopherson. 

“In October of 2017 we lost our youngest son to suicide. And it’s been in my life since the age of eight when my biological father took his own life, and when I was 18 I had twin cousins that took their lives. Losing our youngest child in 2017 was probably the biggest push for me to get involved with AFSP because of what they do and how much money they put toward their programs for loss survivors and for people that are still here.” said Evelyn Alt, Walk Chair of the event.

“I help Evelyn Alt, she is the Walk Chair and we kind of do it together. We have a phenomenal committee that has been planning this event for the last nine months,” Christopherson said. 

“We started working in February to get everything in place for the walk in September,” Alt said. “There’s a lot of key elements between volunteers and because our event is held outside, we have to make sure we have everything for that, like bathrooms and things like that. It’s an undertaking but we all have a hand in it because we’re all closely tied to the cause.”

The walk’s themselves are put on by the community annually in cities nationwide to raise awareness for suicide and how you can support loved ones going through difficult times in their life. 

“These are community members from around the area, that are incredibly passionate about suicide prevention. They have been working really hard and we’re really excited for a really hopeful event on Sunday,” Christopherson said. 

The main goal of creating these events is to raise awareness for suicide, to advocate for prevention, to support people within the community and to raise money for research. 

“The dollars raised at these events support these local programs, so we’ve been to schools in Bismarck, we hosted Soul Shop in Bismarck, we’ve done a lot of Talk Saves Lives in Bismarck, these are providing programs that talk about warning signs, risk factors, but they also encourage conversations around mental health,” Christopherson said. 

“Not only do the dollars at this event support our mission, support research, support prevention education, support advocacy, but they’re also encouraging people to have conversations and normalizing talking about mental health.”  

Allowing people to know that there is hope, that things will get better is a core building block of the AFSP mission to prevent suicide.  

“As the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, it’s our mission to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide, we’re working really hard to change that culture around mental health,” Christopherson said. 

The walks are set up in a way that creates teams. Every person walking is walking for someone they know, representing the person you lost every time you take a step around the capitol. Another part of the ceremony done in past years was the handing out of beads, each a different color and each representing someone different who was lost. 

“Even in the year of the pandemic we still did a walk, we did it virtually, still had as many components as possible. One of the big things of our walk is what’s called the bead ceremony, there are nine different beads and each one represents the loss of some person. We still even had that virtually, we had people send in videos of why they wore the beads they wore,” Alt said.

“On the national level, we’re the number one private funder for mental health research and that’s something that I’m incredibly proud of because the more that we know about mental health, the more we know about the brain, the more that we know about suicide, the more treatments, tools, and resources can be created to help more people,” Christopherson said.

“This work, we’re changing the culture, we’re normalizing conversations. I know that what we’re doing is working, I do believe that our work saves lives and it changes the culture and fights the stigma. I wish that It was happening faster but I do believe in the work that we’re doing and I believe that the culture is changing,” Christopherson said.

Normalizing talking about mental health is a strong building block and an important part of the AFSP mission. 

“When my dad died, I am from a very small town in a very rural area. We didn’t talk about my dad. I wanted to talk about my dad but I didn’t understand why we couldn’t. And then when Emily died, I was in eighth grade. She was my best friend. I wanted to honor her, I wanted to support her, and I wanted to honor her memory. I just didn’t know how to do that, so personally I do work for AFSP my story is a little bit different, I purposefully came to AFSP in my role because I was kind of like, ‘this is what i’m supposed to do with my life, this is the way I’m supposed to honor them and give back.’ But it’s so much more than my story now, because I’ve met so many people and when you do this work you work so closely with people and you know their families, and you know their stories, and you also know that there are also some people who have struggled and you’ll see them one year and then I’ll see them the next year and they’ll say ‘I’m better, I’m getting the help that I need, I’m doing better’ or that their loved one is doing better and it’s just a great reminder that this work is important work,” Christopherson said.

“I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘because of you I’m going to go and seek help’ or ‘because of you I feel like I can talk about it’ on the first year that we walked after we lost our child my husband, who is a farmer, farmers are looked at as very hardy stalk and plus he’s a man, and men don’t talk about their feelings a lot,” Alt said. “In that first year we did speak on the loss of a child, when we prepared to leave the walk that night we had a man come up to us and say to my husband, ‘thank you, thank you for standing up there and talking about the fact you lost your son.’ Because he felt that as a farmer and as a man that was something he couldn’t talk about, and he had lost his son by suicide.” 

If you or someone you love is healing after experiencing the loss of a loved one, it’s important to know you are not alone. There are community members everywhere who can relate with you and understand what you have been through and it is important to speak about how you feel. With each person who joins the walk in support or donation the more the culture changes, the more accepting people become. 

“This organization gives people hope, people who may think that things will never change,” Alt said. “It has given them the hope to continue talking about it and to feel safe to talk about it and to not feel like an outcast talking about it.”


If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please reach out to one of the following sources.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 988

National Suicide Prevention Chat: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Crisis Text Line: 741-741