Suicide is the leading cause of death in Montana, and is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
Over the last few years, the Treasure State has consistently been in the top 3 states in the country with the highest overall suicide rates.
“We are a community where, as gorgeous as it is here, there are so many contributing factors that affect Montanans that we truly need to be the ones talking about this,” said Tracy Rassley, co-chair of the Out of the Darkness Bozeman Community Walk.
On Saturday, hundreds gathered at Lindley Park in Bozeman for the city’s 4th annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The walk occurs across all fifty states during the month of September, and there are 7 community walks across the state of Montana.
Participants and teams walked a mile together, many wearing different colored honor beads to symbolize personal connection or loss.
“The beads are significant because it tells you what kind of loss someone had. I wear white beads because I lost my son,” said Rassley.
“So when I look out across the crowd, if I see others with white beads I’m more likely to go up to them and ask them how they’re doing and make sure they’re okay and see if there’s anything I can do to help them.”
Before the walk, speakers discussed the importance of addressing the stigma behind the conversation of sucide and how to spread awareness.
“My speech was a very personal story about my father taking his own life 47 years ago. And how it affected me as a very young child,” said Sharon Stachowski, the keynote speaker for the Out of the Darkness Walk.
“Suicide is still a word that even the people that it affects, they still can’t say that word. But I feel like the more often I say the word suicide, the more likely people are to have a conversation about it. That is so desperately needed. Especially in our state,” said Rassley.
The event had a goal of reaching $27,000 in donations going towards research, educational programs and advocacy efforts locally and nationally.
By the end of the walk, on Saturday, donations were at $36,000 going towards the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“Getting an event out here is hugely important,” said Stachowski. “It’s important for people who have not, maybe not experienced suicide in their lives to understand that it affects a tremendous amount of people.”