National walk aims to prevent suicide, comfort survivors

Published: Tuesday, June 18 2013 4:40 p.m. MDT

Mandy Aiken Draney (left) and her sister Taryn Aiken walked in memory of their father during the 2012 Out the Darkness Walk in San Francisco.

Photo courtesy Mandy Aiken Draney

Editor's note: The Deseret News and KSL have explored the issue of suicide in-depth, and this article is part of an on-going effort by the Deseret News and KSL to prevent suicide and help those affected by it. Previous articles now online at www.deseretnews.com include: "Push for solutions underway to Utah's suicide problem"; "Suicide discussion leads to calls for help"; and "Battling the stigma of suicide." Go to www.ksl.com to see a video broadcast of “Breaking the Silence of Suicide.”

Mandy Aiken Draney had just turned 24 when her father took his life in 2002, but the American Fork resident had seen her loved one struggle with depression and an addiction to prescription drugs for more than a decade.

"It was tragic but not surprising," Draney said. "It doesn’t make it any easier. Suicide is such a traumatic way to lose someone. There are just so many questions."

A one-time successful businessman, Aiken’s life began to spiral downward as his depression and addiction to prescription drugs grew, his daughter said. Yet despite Aiken’s troubles, Draney said he was an amazing father who loved his five children dearly.

“We were best friends,” Draney said. “I didn’t hang out with other kids. I hung out with my dad.

“When he passed away, devastating doesn’t even begin to cover it because he was so much a part of my life.”

After his death, Draney said she struggled to find support in her grief.

“People wouldn’t even talk about it," she said. "After the funeral, that was it. No one would talk about anything. I didn’t want the way he died to overshadow him — to define him.”

Early in the morning of June 2, Draney was far from alone as she joined nearly 2,000 others affected by suicide to cross the finish line of the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk for suicide awareness and prevention.

A walk for hope

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has sponsored the 16-mile walk for the past 11 years. Normally, the walk rotates to a new city each year, but this year it returned to the site of the first walk — Washington, D.C.

The walk raises money for AFSP’s research and education programs, creates awareness about depression and suicide, and offers support to families who have lost loved ones to suicide.

When signing up for the overnight event, walkers pledge to raise $1,000 for educational outreach programs, prevention and research. Most raise closer to $1,500, according to the AFSP.

Participants vary in age, faith and hometown. Many, like Draney, travel across the country for the event. But all have had their lives touched by suicide.

Some have lost friends or family members. Others have struggled with suicidal thoughts themselves.

The walk allows individuals to know they are not alone.

“We all say you find a family in the people who are survivors,” Draney said. “It’s not a group you ever wanted to be a part of, but they become your family.”

A rising trend

This year’s walk occurred just weeks after the Centers for Disease Control released data showing an increase in the number of suicides.

More than 38,00 people died of suicide in 2010, the most recent year on record from the CDC, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the country.

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