This story mentions suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, you can call or text ‘988’ to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
CHICAGO — Several thousand people came together Saturday morning to share in remembering those who have died by suicide, while providing hope and support for countless others touched by it.
“I hope that today brings you some peace as you share your stories,” said Lisa Miller, a loss survivor and longtime volunteer with the Illinois Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
The Out of the Darkness Walk Chicagoland, which stepped off at Montrose Harbor, marked its 20th year.
The three-mile walk gave participants the opportunity to learn more about ways to support loved ones facing a mental health struggle, understand how to help someone at risk, and support loss survivors who have been touched by suicide.
“People like you, who made a difference in my life and reminded me that my life is important,” said Gabby Vargas.
Vargas opened up about the challenges she faced with her mental health and shared her gratitude for everyone who helped support her. Now, as the founder of the National Hispanic Suicide Prevention Network, Vargas is helping provide support and resources for even more people in need.
On the screen next to the stage, on posters held by families, and on tents at the walk, were memorials for people who have passed. As they shared stories of their loved ones, many were reminded they never need to walk alone in their journey.
“If this could help one person, it’s all worth it,” said Shawn Kane. “It’s okay not to be okay.”
With an army behind them, Shawn and Julie Kane of Orland Park walked in memory of their son, Kevin Kane, who passed away earlier this year. Family, friends, and Sigma Chi fraternity brothers from Butler University traveled to Chicagoland to honor and remember the beloved 24-year-old.
“I think he would definitely be proud of us for hoping that no other family would have to go through what we’re going through,” said Julie. “We would do anything to have him back.”
Remembered as a brilliant young man, who was kind, joyful and put others first always, Julie and Shawn said they always respected their son’s privacy in his mental health struggles. They hope by sharing his story they’ll not only keep his memory alive, but also help another family.
“I think he knew he was struggling and always hoped that people thought positively of him, so he worked very hard to always be a light for everybody else,” said Julie.
The Kanes said they would like to see mental health resources improve nationwide, including grief counseling services, and hope if there is something positive to come out of something so devastating, it is that others will be helped by Kevin’s story.
Also present at the walk were staff with the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), officers with the Chicago Police Department and firefighters with the Chicago Fire Department.
“It’s to show support. If we’re not showing support for this, we’re not backing anybody. We’re not backing our officers, we’re not backing our city agencies and partners, and we’re not backing our community,” said CPD Superintendent Larry Snelling.
The new head of Chicago police said department staff have experienced trying times over the last three to four years, emphasizing that suicide has also deeply touched the men and women serving the community.
“We’ve suffered some major losses of officers that have died by suicide, so I’m here to send that message that I’m here to support this cause and this effort,” said Snelling.
As first responders stepped together to step out the stigma surrounding mental health, Snelling said he’s proud to know people are willing to talk about the topic and how to help each other, both in policing and the community.
“Having been on this job for nearly 32 years now. I’ve seen a major change; there was a time where it was something you didn’t talk about,” said Snelling. “People are sharing stories out here, so we have our police officers out here, we’re working to get help for, they get to mingle with community members who have similar experiences.”
Saturday’s walk aimed to raise $900,000 and donations are still open. As of Saturday afternoon, nearly $700,000 had already been raised.