Walking for a cause: Marquette County Suicide Prevention Walk kicks off today

MARQUETTE — The annual Marquette County Suicide Prevention Walk kicks off today.

The weeklong event is virtual for a second straight year and is organized through the Marquette County Suicide Prevention Alliance and the Marquette County Health Department.

The goal of the free event is to benefit local suicide prevention/postvention programming across the county.

While the walk is typically held in-person at Al Quaal Recreation Area, organizers made the call to go virtual in the early stages of the planning process.

“We start planning quite a few months in advance, so when we start planning, it’s usually in about January or February,” said Sarah Derwin, health educator with MCHD. “Just knowing how long-term planning was going and not sure how things would be, we figured it would be a safer bet to do things virtually again just in case. Kind of looking at things (now), we feel like we’re definitely okay with the decision that we made.”

Organizers were determined to hold an event one way or another, stating in a news release that “it is still vital to honor the spirit of the event and recognize suicide prevention, suicide loss survivors, attempt survivors, and family and loved ones of those who struggle.”

Derwin said the virtual format allows individuals from all over to participate.

“Our walks typically are very emotional and very heartwarming and very sweet, so there’s nothing that can compare to an in-person walk,” she said. “But, the neat thing about the virtual walks is that we have people walking in different counties, different states and different places, so we set that whole week aside and just say at any point during that week, take that time out to go for that walk to either remember those that you’ve lost, if you’ve struggled yourself, or just supporting your community and the cause.”

As of last week, 99 people were registered for the event, which is on par with last year’s numbers.

It’s been discussed many times throughout the pandemic how isolation affects an individual’s mental health. A study published on the Suicide Prevention Resource Center website states that “based on a systematic review of suicide data from 21 countries and areas within countries, this study found suicide rates did not increase during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Locally, Derwin says it’s too early to tell how the pandemic may have affected mental health.

“We kind of look at it with two hands,” she said. “We know that with suicide, suicide rates can be constant throughout the year. A variety of different risk factors can put people at risk of suicide or having thoughts of suicide. We don’t have hard statistics yet about how the pandemic has affected people, but anecdotally, what we can look at or know is that some of those known risk factors such as isolation, not being connected with your community — which is a really important risk factor — on the other hand, like a protective factor to say ‘Are we reaching people in our community, connecting them, do they feel part of their community, do they feel loved and respected?’ So, definitely with people being isolated and not being able to gather in groups and do some of those things, we could wonder then, could that have impacted and did it impact mental health? And, I think that we can say that it definitely probably did.”

The Marquette County Suicide Prevention Alliance are a group of community members who come together to raise awareness for suicide prevention.

“We’re really excited that we still have been able to maintain through this pandemic our Marquette County Suicide Prevention Alliance,” Derwin said. “This is a group of people throughout Marquette County, many of them are from organizations, some are from businesses, some are community supporters, they’re advocates about suicide prevention and they feel very strongly about it. So, having this alliance together has been crucial in just going forward with programming in Marquette County, so I’m really grateful for that alliance and what they do.”

Event registration is free, but funds raised through T-shirt sales and other methods go toward local suicide prevention programming.

“With our walk, all of the funds that we raise stay local,” Derwin said. “Sometimes people wonder ‘What do you use those funds for?’ Some important things that we use the funds for are doing evidence-based suicide prevention and intervention training in our community, and that has been proven to be very helpful when you have people that are trained at many different levels. Whether it’s students trained in ‘Question, Persuade and Refer,’ a 1-hour gatekeeper training, or there’s an intense two-day training called ‘Assist’ that anyone can participate in, we know that (funds) are very helpful for that.

“We know that other groups request reading materials and resources for suicide prevention that we are able to use those funds for. We’re able to use funds for different contests or events going on that are in support of mental health and making that awareness, so we love being able to give the funds right back to Marquette County for suicide prevention.”

Derwin added that MCHD recently received a grant from the state of Michigan to assist with suicide prevention programming.

“One other exciting thing is that the Marquette County Health Department is the recipient of a two-year grant from the state of Michigan for suicide prevention,” she said. “It’s an effort of our suicide prevention alliance that we’ve been able to keep our programming going when we have funds, and then when we don’t have funds. This upcoming grant, we’re very excited about it. It’s going to focus on young adults ages 18 to 24 in Marquette County and (is) looking at a couple of different initiatives that are going to come out of that too. That starts Oct. 1, and we’re feeling very grateful that we have some funds to keep our work going.”

Those interested in participating in this year’s suicide prevention walk can register online at www.runsignup.com/Race/MI/Ishpeming/MCSPAwalk.

Registration is open until the event’s final day on Sunday.

Participants are encouraged to submit a photo from their walk. Those who do will be entered into a drawing for a door prize. You can submit your photos by emailing them to sderwin@mqtco.org or by sending them to the Marquette County Suicide Prevention Alliance Facebook page via Facebook Messenger. Submitted photos may also potentially be shared on the alliance’s Facebook page.

“Symbolically, what we’re just asking is just take that time for yourself,” Derwin said. “Go for that walk, which also, physical activity can be a good boost to your mental health. But, take that time to remember that person or give yourself props for being here and being in this community.”

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or know somebody in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today