United Way seeks to promote mental health and suicide awareness with Into The Light Walk

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, October 6, 2021

SALISBURY — As the sun rises on Saturday morning, people strolling side by side will walk into the light at Shuford Football Stadium at Catawba College.

The Rowan County United Way is teaming up with Innospec to host this year’s Into The Light Walk from 6:30-8:30 a.m. The goal of the walk is to bring mental health and suicide out of the darkness by promoting healthy conversations and awareness.

“It’s something that’s in the past been stigmatized and people don’t want to speak up about it,” said Jim Behmer, chair of this year’s United Way fundraising campaign. “This is an event where that’s what the focus is: people feeling comfortable going and sharing or even just being around people who are dealing with things they’ve been dealing with.”

This is the third year of the walk, which coincides with National Mental Illness Awareness Week. The event was previously held in downtown Salisbury, but Behmer said the move to Catawba College will allow for better social distancing in a controlled environment. After walking a few laps around the track while the sun edges over the horizon, participants will gather in the bleachers to listen to several speakers.

Behmer is on the event’s planning committee and has a special appreciation for the event.

“Suicide has impacted my family, so I’m all about being with people who have gone through similar events and how we can prevent possibly losing someone else,” Behmer said.

Organizers this year have placed an emphasis on ensuring mental health resources are available before, during and after the walk.

“There’s going to be a lot of resources there, a lot of agencies are going to be there to help folks,” Behmer said. “A lot of these (walkers) are survivors or they’re family members of people who may have attempted or actually did commit suicide. People need to talk to each other and find resources to help.”

Rowan County Public Health is a sponsor and partner for the event. Mental health was one of three priority areas identified by the Health Department in the 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment. Suicide is listed as the second leading cause of death in Rowan County for individuals 20-29 years old, the sixth leading cause of death for individuals 0-19 and the seventh leading cause of death for individuals 40-64 years old.

Listed as “intentional self-harm” in the N.C. State Health Statistics Detailed Mortality Statistics Report, there were 17 deaths in Rowan County due to intentional self-harm in 2019, 12 of which were white males, two white females, one Black male and one male of another race.

While Rowan County saw a slight decrease in suicide rates from 2019-21 during the COVID-19 pandemic, from 27 in 2018 to 17 in 2019, there was an increase in calls to suicide prevention hotlines, and diagnoses of anxiety and depression, based on mental health data.

Rowan County Public Health provides mental health education through its “Q.P.R” training, which stands for “Question, Persuade, and Refer.” Similar to CRP, QPR is an emergency response to someone in crisis and can save lives. The training dispels the misconception that talking about suicide will encourage someone to take action. Instead, the training encourages people to connect with an individual struggling with mental health and ask the question: “Are you considering suicide?”

The Into The Light Walk is also part of the Rowan County United Way’s ongoing fundraising campaign. Rowan United Way is aiming to raise $1.5 million that will be dispersed among its 19 community investment partners. Five of those partners are dedicated to directly addressing mental health in the Rowan County community. All proceeds from the Into The Light Walk are used to support those mental programs.

Participants can sign up for the walk for $25 by midnight on Friday at runsignup.com/into-the-light or by calling the Rowan County United Way office at 704-633-1802. Participants can also sign up on the day of the race at 6 a.m. for $30. There is no charge for children 5 and under. Each registrant will receive a shirt and bracelet.

The Into The Light Walk will be early enough in the day that it will not interfere with Catawba’s home showdown against Carson-Newman scheduled for 1 p.m. 

More information about the walk can be found online at rowanunitedway.org.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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