Hundreds walk in Cape to promote suicide awareness

Monday, October 8, 2012
Jennifer Cagle-Huffman speaks before the Out of the Darkness Community Walk Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012 at Cape Girardeau County Park North. More pictures are in a gallery at semissourian.com. (Fred Lynch)

The second annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk brought about 250 people to Cape County Park North on Sunday and raised more than $14,000 for suicide awareness and prevention.

An average of 705 Missouri residents die by suicide every year, according to information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; an average of six people are directly affected by each person lost, which means there are more than 4,200 people directly affected when people in Missouri take their own lives. This doesn't take in to account the number of people indirectly affected by suicide.

Some people aren't aware of those numbers, but Jennifer Cagle-Huffman of Jackson and Laura Matlock of Cape Girardeau want to change that, which is why they brought the Out of the Darkness Community Walk to Cape Girardeau.

Cagle-Huffman lost her mother, LaVonn Cagle, to suicide more than 13 years ago, and Matlock lost her only brother in January 2011. She organized the first Out of the Darkness Walk nine months later.

Cagle-Huffman and Matlock bonded over their common ground of having lost a loved one to suicide.

"Jennifer had registered for the first walk, and I contacted her online," Matlock said. "We attended a suicide awareness conference and bonded. We decided to team up on the walk together."

"I was so new to the situation, and she had been 13 years into hers," Matlock said about Cagle-Huffman. "She had already gone through everything I was going through. She was so helpful."

One of the 250 people at Sunday's walk was Ethan Worthington of Cape Girardeau, who lost a cousin to suicide. Worthington said that, while he wasn't particularly close to his cousin, he was still greatly affected by his death.

"I was close to his family, so it still hit me hard," he said. "It made me realize that you could be directly affected even if you didn't know the victim."

Worthington said that events like Out of the Darkness are great for the community.

"It's both amazing and sad how many people who have had to experience this kind of loss," he said. "It's nice knowing that other people understand what you're going through."

The centerpiece of the event was a walk around the lake at Cape County Park North, followed by guest speakers Dr. John Cooley, the director of Behavioral Health Services at Tochette Regional Hospital in Centreville, Ill., and Amanda Fuller of Cape Girardeau, who lost her 13-year-old nephew, Ryan, to suicide in 2008.

Fuller feels that awareness is of great importance.

"Had it not affected me personally, I don't know that I would have participated in an event like this," she said. "We all lose people to death, but this is a specific type of death. Nobody wants to be in the club of people who lost somebody to suicide."

Worthington also said suicide prevention and awareness were important.

"I think that this is just as important as cancer research. This is a disease, too," he said. "It would be better if people were more aware."

The second annual Out of the Darkness in Cape Girardeau is only one of many that are held yearly throughout the United States. All proceeds raised go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The primary goals of the foundation are to educate the public about mood disorders and suicide prevention, provide programs and resources to survivors of suicide loss, and to promote policies and legislation that affect suicide and prevention.

Cagle-Huffman said it's important to educate young people, and wants to get a program in schools about suicide and prevention.

"I don't want any other families to have to go through what I went through," she said.

Aside from the walk, Cagle-Huffman also hosts Survivors of Loved Ones to Suicide, or SOLOS of Southeast Missouri, a suicide bereavement support group that meets on the second Thursday of every month.

"We can all make a difference in suicide prevention even if we don't know somebody who is sick," she said.

Another primary goal of Out of the Darkness is to gain volunteers and start a chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Cape Girardeau.

"We need volunteers to get a chapter together and to do other events," Matlock said. "It would help us bring programs to schools as well as providing resources of those who are suicidal or suffering from mental illness."

For more information, contact Matlock at laura_afsp@yahoo.com, visit www.outofthedarkness.org or look up the local suicide prevention group on Facebook.

Pertinent address:

Cape County Park North, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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