The Yellowstone Valley chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention held an Out of the Darkness Walk that focused on suicide prevention at Veterans Park in Billings Sunday.
"The out of the darkness walk is the largest fund raiser for what the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention does in Montana," said Out of the Darkness Walk Co-chair Erin Bratsky Sunday. "And it's events like this that bring the community together, and have camaraderie, and have people connect and know that there is hope and help and resources."
The Yellowstone Valley chapter exceeded its fundraising goal this year. Pushing past its $110,000 goal by bringing in around $120,000. That's not counting the money that was raised in a silent auction and other activities before the walk started.
Bratsky said, that all the money raised stays in Montana to fund research, educational programs, and survivor support operated by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
"The money that’s raised here can go right back in the community in terms of education and evidence based programming," Bratsky said. "And that’s free to the community."
Bratsky said free educational programming for businesses, employees, and any other group can be found by contacting the Montana Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
In addition to being the Out of the Darkness co-chair, Bratsky is also a licensed clinical professional counselor that works in the Billings area.
Bratsky said Education is important when it comes to recognizing behaviors linked to suicidal tendencies. She said sometimes asking if a loved one is struggling can be the hardest part.
"How do you ask someone that you love if they're hurting and if they're struggling? Because we have to ask the question," Bratsky said. "Oftentimes that's our own anxiety and fear that gets in the way. If we can get that education of the signs we're looking for and how to ask those questions we're going to reach the resources that those people need to stop this epidemic."
This is the fifteenth year the Out of the Darkness Walk has been held in Billings. When the walk was first organized in Billings in 2004, about 25 cities around the country were holding similar walks. In 2019 that number has ballooned to over 400.
Bratsky said the way Montanan's talk about suicide has changed since the Out of the Darkness Walk started in Billings, and she has a positive outlook on the role social media can play in getting people help.
"I think it’s improving," Bratsky said. "I have hope that it’s improving. I think the world of social media can be a really positive place for people to see that they are not alone and to access those resources. I think people are more willing to talk about it. And we are reducing the stigma of what mental health has and that people are able to do that more.”
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, there are multiple ways to reach out for help.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.
If you feel more comfortable chatting over text, text "MT" to 741741.