Finding Ways Out of the Darkness

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Finding Ways Out of the Darkness

Before the Out of the Darkness Community Walk begins, walkers write messages on rocks to those they have lost to suicide. They carry the rocks with them. At the end of the walk, the rocks are placed at the base of a newly planted tree, symbolizing hope.
Before the Out of the Darkness Community Walk begins, walkers write messages on rocks to those they have lost to suicide. They carry the rocks with them. At the end of the walk, the rocks are placed at the base of a newly planted tree, symbolizing hope.

In 2012, two suicide survivors teamed up to create the first Out of the Darkness Community Walk in the Valley. Melissa Zamora lost her dad to suicide when she was a child. Missy Moreno lost her brother to suicide in 2011.  

“We found that many people around us had been affected by suicide,” Zamora said. “Yet no one was talking about it. No one was talking about it because, as in my case, I did not know HOW.”

Out of the Darkness Community Walks, now held in all 50 states, are the largest fundraisers for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Money raised funds suicide-prevention programs, unites suicide survivors and educates communities about mental health.

“Out of the Darkness is important … it gives families and friends of those lost to suicide a safe forum where they can connect and meet others who know the loss of suicide instead of feeling isolated,” Zamora said. “It is a place where grief does not have to be hidden, a place where you can feel it is OK to talk about your loss without judgment. It is a place where many start their journey to healing.”

Nancy Salinas, Karen Valdez and Tony Aguirre share a time of togetherness and love before the 2019 Rio Grande Valley Walk.
Nancy Salinas, Karen Valdez and Tony Aguirre share a time of togetherness and love before the 2019 Rio Grande Valley Walk.

AFSP South Texas makes a difference

After the first Valley walk, the need for more resources became clear. In October 2015, AFSP approved the Southern Texas Chapter of the organization. The founding board then respectively put in a request for a change in name to the South Texas Chapter. AFSP approved the change.

Zamora explained that the AFSP South Texas Chapter provides community resources and literature in both English and Spanish. This includes educational programming about mental health and suicide prevention for educators and students of all ages. The organization also provides Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training for caregivers and all professionals who work in environments where they need to be prepared to provide suicide first aid in a crisis or to prevent a crisis. All of this takes money.

“Even as we start to acknowledge that suicide is a major health crisis, funding for suicide still gets the least amount of funding from our federal government,” Zamora said. “Local funding is so important so we can continue to fund suicide-prevention efforts.”

Melissa Zamora, co-founder of the Rio Grande Valley Walk, speaks to the crowd at the start of the 2019 walk Nov. 2 at the Edinburg Municipal Park.
Melissa Zamora, co-founder of the Rio Grande Valley Walk, speaks to the crowd at the start of the 2019 walk Nov. 2 at the Edinburg Municipal Park.

The importance of early intervention

Nancy Peña Razo, Ph.D, is an associate professor in practice and the school psychology program coordinator at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Razo trains Licensed Specialists in School Psychology. She also works tirelessly in the community to bring awareness about what LSSPs do for children and families in our schools. She is also an instructor for the Mental Health First Aid program and the Youth Mental Health First Aid program. Participants in these programs learn the risk factors and warning signs of mental-health issues. They develop an understanding of the importance of early intervention. They also learn how to help children or adults in a mental-health crisis.

Hidalgo focuses on mental health

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez made mental health one of his top priorities when he took office in January. As a result, the Hidalgo County Mental Health Coalition has been formed. It provides resources for residents of Hidalgo County and brings the mental-health community together to identify duplication of services. They also work together to solve mental-health issues in the county and secure funding to provide services needed.

If you or someone you love is suffering from depression, anxiety, or any mental-health concern, Razo offers this advice: “Please don’t hesitate to ask for help!”

High school students from Edinburg warm up with Zumba prior to this year’s walk. Zumba is led each year by Sharyland ISD teacher and AFSP volunteer Mary Cruz of Zumba with Mary Cruz.
High school students from Edinburg warm up with Zumba prior to this year’s walk. Zumba is led each year by Sharyland ISD teacher and AFSP volunteer Mary Cruz of Zumba with Mary Cruz.

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