The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) features community walks, held in hundreds of cities across the country. The walks are at the core of the Out of the Darkness movement, which began in 2004, to raise awareness around suicide and to create dialogue and support for prevention.

These events give people the courage to open up about their own experiences as well as a platform that brings greater awareness to mental health. Friends, family members, neighbors and coworkers walk side-by-side, supporting each other and honoring the memory of those they’ve lost.

More than ever, it’s important to create a culture that’s smarter about mental health and to be there for one another.

Southeastern Connecticut did not have an Out of the Darkness walk until 2018 when a group of local folks saw an opportunity to create a greater awareness around suicide and suicide prevention. A committee was formed, and the first walk at McCook Park was held in September of that same year. Since then, the walk has grown in size and has become increasingly more successful year over year. This year, the group hopes to raise $40,000 which will go towards suicide prevention programs, education and resources.

The walk starts at the amphitheater at McCook Park and goes down onto the boardwalk all the way to the end and then back up to the amphitheater. Committee co-chair Tara Autrey says, “It’s a moving and uplifting experience where people talk openly about their loved ones, their own personal struggles, and we also lead participants in the bead ceremony.” The colors of the beads represent the relationship of the person lost to suicide.

Tara shares, “I walk because I lost my Uncle Billy to suicide in December 2009, the day after my 30th birthday. I’ve become incredibly involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, as a board member of the Connecticut chapter and a Healing Conversations peer support volunteer.” Tara has also been trained to deliver AFSP’s “Talk Saves Lives” presentation.

This year, the committee’s youngest member, Ryan DeCosta, wants to share his personal story. Ryan says, “My biggest passion is activism and helping others in their healing process. I also want to play an important role in building a greater awareness around suicide and suicide prevention.” Ryan, a 21-year-old sophomore at Mitchell College, is dedicated to the cause. He is majoring in social work, behavioral health and behavioral sciences; he’s working towards a minor in special education. He also works full-time at New England Residential Services at one of their group homes in Old Lyme with individuals who have behavioral, mental and intellectual challenges.

Having lost a close friend to suicide when he was only 13 years old, Ryan has spent much of his young life working through the grief process and struggling with his own mental health. He has personally battled chronic suicidal thoughts and attempts. Ryan shares, “As I work through my own healing process, I feel that I have become a better support and resource for others going through the same kind of loss as well as those battling with their own suicidal thoughts.”  Ryan adds, “Be kind to everyone around you, because every person has a battle, and we never know what someone might be going through.”

Ryan joined the local committee this year after being involved with the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). Through this organization, he has spoken at middle schools and high schools all over Connecticut about mental health and ending the stigma around it. Ryan learned of NAMI through the Brian Dagle Foundation and Brian’s Healing Hearts Center for Hope and Healing in Niantic. Ryan says, “The Dagle family has helped me to work through my own experience with suicide loss. Through them, I became more involved with AFSP; Paul Dagle is co-committee chair of our local walk, and Ann Dagle recommended me for the committee board. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive community to be a part of, to be able to not only share my own personal experiences, but also to spread awareness for mental health, suicide loss and suicide prevention. Ryan adds, “If I can even save one life from ending as a result of suicide, or one person from experiencing the pain of that tragic loss, then I will have succeeded.”

While Ryan has battled multiple mental health challenges in his own young life, he doesn’t want a diagnosis on paper to be his story. He says, “I want to walk with those at the Out of the Darkness Walk side-by-side as one to continue to raise awareness around suicide and suicide prevention and to support the healing process for those who are grieving.”

Ryan will be speaking at the walk, along with others who will share their personal stories of grief and healing. Please join them.

You can visit American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to learn more about the organization. Details about the walk in Niantic can be found here: Southeastern CT Walk.

To learn more about the important resources and support provided by Brian’s Healing Hearts Center for Hope and Healing right here in Niantic, please visit:

Out of the Darkness Southeastern CT Walk

Walk Date: 09/24/2022
Walk Location: McCook’s Park
Registration / Check-in Start Time: 9:00 am
Opening Ceremony: 10:00 am
Walk Start Time: 10:30 am
Walk End Time: 1:00 pm


About Our Main Street Blogger:
Joanne lives in, and loves, our community. She was looking for an opportunity to help share all that our local businesses do to make East Lyme such a special place to call home, and she is excited to contribute to our blog. Joanne brings to the role her experience from New London Main Street where she contributed content to their website, newsletters and email communications for many years.

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