On April 22, 2009, Kyle committed suicide. He was only 15 years old.
Kyle was not alone that year. Over 30,000 people kill themselves every year in the U.S., making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
April 22, 2009 was a dark day for Kyle’s family. But out of that darkness came a mission. The tragedy inspired Kyle’s aunt, Angela McClintic, to learn more about and get involved with suicide prevention. McClintic became a passionate advocate for preventative strategies, families who have lost loved ones to suicide, and survivors of suicide.
In the months after Kyle’s death, McClintic and Kyle’s sister came across the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the national Out of the Darkness Community Walks. Together, McClintic and Kyle’s sister organized the first-ever Out of the Darkness Walk in Eugene in October 2009. The walks have become an annual event held at Alton Baker Park.
Founded in 1987, AFSP is the leading, national, non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to researching, understanding, and preventing suicide. It was also the first national non-profit with this mission. To this end they fund scientific research, offer educational programs to mental health professionals, educate the public about mood disorders, promote legislation to prevent suicide, and provide support for at-risk individuals and families impacted by suicide loss.
One of AFSP’s important programs is the annual Out of the Darkness Walks that occur around the country. McClintic, the Oregon Chapter Chair for the Board of Directors for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, is also the local event chair for the Out of the Darkness Walk here in Eugene. McClintic says,
“There are walks all over the United States. We have five walks in Oregon. The Eugene walk — this is the fourth annual one.”
The walks have a two-fold purpose: first, to bring local community attention to and awareness of the reality of suicide; and second, to give survivors an opportunity to meet other survivors and realize they are not alone. McClintic explains that,
“The goal is to raise awareness to help prevent suicide and it is a time for survivors to get together and know — ‘you are not alone.’ We want to bring people out of the darkness to know that they matter.”
With a subject as dark and disturbing as suicide, there seems to be a cultural disinterest in talking about it. The idea of Out of the Darkness is to change that cultural perception. By making the concept less taboo, McClintic says, we can get to a place where suicide prevention is not just an idea but a realistic goal. She says,
“A lot of times people think that it is taboo, that you shouldn’t talk about it. But you need to talk about it. The more you talk about it, the more you get the information. It’s a disorder, really — a disease.”
By encouraging communities to talk about suicide, communities can learn the tools to properly help those in need. There is hope, McClintic says. This is something that is preventable.
“Mental illness can be treated. Once you can treat and keep that under control, you can prevent the suicide. If you have someone who is struggling, you take away the risk factors. So there are all sorts of things you can do to help prevent it. Mostly, though, talking to these people and letting them know they matter.”
For McClintic, this is not just a job. This is a passion of hers after she lost her nephew. Looking back on that fateful day, McClintic realizes that — if she had the tools that she has now — she might have been able to reach out to Kyle and help him. She just did not know what to look for back then.
“I didn’t know what to look for. But looking back the signs were there. He stopped competing in sports. He stopped wanting to learn to drive. Just seemed much more depressed. And then a few days before he killed himself, he turned around and was so very happy. Once they make that choice to end their lives it’s a two-day time frame and they become relieved. I lost him April 22, 2009. He was 15. That is what inspired me to get involved in this.”
While the lost of her nephew still weighs on her heavily, it has given her a strength and resolve to teach others what those signs were that she herself could not see — to give others the tools needed to save them from the grief she herself experienced. McClintic says,
“If I can save one family from what my family went through, then it is all worth it. We just need to get more awareness out there.”
The Out of the Darkness Walk in Eugene will take place on October 13 at Alton Baker Park. It begins at 12 pm and will end at 2 pm. There is no charge for the event. Rather, in the spirit of other walks, participants are asked to get donations and do their own fundraising. On the day of the walk there will be a memorial garden so people can bring pictures of and write messages to lost loved ones. Mental health organizations and support groups — ranging from Lane County Mental Health to Womenspace to NAMI — will also be there to hand out information.
For more information about the Out of the Darkness Community Walks, visit http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.home. To register for the Eugene walk, go to http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.event&eventID=1685. To learn more about the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, go to http://www.afsp.org/.