SARATOGA SPRINGS – The annual Capital Region Out of the Darkness walk for R.I.T.A at Saratoga Spa State Park will be held this weekend, with a goal of raising $250,000.
The annual walk, hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Capital Region New York Chapter (CRNY), takes place today at Orenda Pavilion in Saratoga Spa State Park.
“Our walks are called the ‘Out of the Darkness Walks’ because there is so much stigma surrounding mental heal and suicide that we really do keep it under wraps, we keep it in the dark,” CRNY area director Sandra Goldmeer said.
This year the group hopes to raise $250,000 and has already raised $138,200 of that goal as of Thursday morning, Goldmeer said.
“Some people are just waiting for somebody to notice that they’re struggling and ask,” Goldmeer said. “So our walks really bring light to that. It’s not only to honor the memories of those we’ve lost but really make a visible statement that we need to talk about our mental health and take care of those who might be struggling.”
The walk existed before it was part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and was originally named “R.I.T.A.” after the women who it was started for, Goldmeer said.
“At the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention we don’t normally do named walks because it’s not about an individual loss it’s about community,” Goldmeer said. “And each of us, by the time we’re an adult, generally knows somebody who has died by suicide, or has struggled with mental health.”
R.I.T.A has now become an acronym which talks about; Remembrance, Intervention, Togetherness and Awareness, Goldmeer said. The acronym reminds us that we are all in this together, she explained.
The funds raised go towards research, advocacy, local community support, educational programs and survivor support, Goldmeer explained. The group works in 15 counties throughout northeastern New York, and the funding helps them to continue to be provide their programs and services and education it offers, Goldmeer said.
The walk supports the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s education and support programs and its goal of reducing the annual U.S. rate of suicide 20% by the year 2025. Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States.
“2019 was the first year that we had started to see a drop in suicide rates,” Goldmeer said. “Even throughout the pandemic we’re starting to see that the more that we talk about mental health that the rate of suicide declines. Not everywhere, not for every community, but it is declining overall nationally.”
The United States had about 48,000 deaths per year by suicide when Goldmeer started in her position in 2019, she said. Last year the U.S. had just over 45,000 deaths by suicide, she explained.
“The total numbers are not as critical as saving each individual life,” Goldmeer said. “I often share with people that 45,000 deaths, which is about what we had last year, is equal to one person in every zip code in every city in every state. Its about really making sure that we support everyone around us, and that we know that there are people for us if we are struggling.”
This walk is one of 550 Out of the Darkness Overnight, Community and Campus Walks being held nationwide this year. The walks are expected to unite more than 300,000 walkers and raise millions for suicide prevention efforts. Last year, these walks raised over $27 million for suicide prevention.
“These walks are about turning hope into action,” AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia said in a statement. “The research has shown us how to fight suicide, and if we keep up the fight, the science is only going to get better and our culture will get smarter about mental health. With the efforts of our courageous volunteers, and a real investment from our nation’s leaders, we hope to significantly reduce the suicide rate in the United States.”
This walk raised over $180,000 last year and had over 1,500 walkers. This year close to 1,800 walkers are expected.
Registration for the walk is free, and there is not a fundraising requirement. In addition to the walk, the event will also include other awareness and memorial activities.
The walk in Saratoga Springs is the biggest in northeastern New York, Goldmeer said.
CRNY will be hosting two other Out of the Darkness Walks next month. The Schenectady walk will be Oct. 2, and the Columbia-Greene Walk will be Oct. 15.
“I really think that everybody should come and walk with us,” Goldmeer said. “They can find it at afsp.org/rita or they can go to afsp.org/capitalregiontogether and find out about all of our walks. It’s not just about loss and survivors, it’s about anybody who loves someone who struggles or struggles themselves so that we can really take a stand and show the world that we need to treat our mental health just like we treat our physical health.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul proclaimed September to be Suicide Prevention Month in New York. The state Office of Mental Health hosted a three day Suicide Prevention Conference this week to help raise awareness and share the latest developments regarding suicide prevention.