September 30, 2020 By [email protected]_84 Off

Out of the Darkness suicide prevention event goes virtual

Allen Barber wasn’t the person that came to mind when you thought about suicide.

A talented singer and actor, he had a beautiful baritone voice and was a member of the elite Montevallo Chamber Singers in college.

“He was well-liked, cared deeply for his family and friends and cared deeply about everything that went on around him,” said his mother, Lydia Barber.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Allen took his own life at age 19 on Oct. 27, 2010.

“We were in shock, devastated and lost,” said his mother, Lydia Barber of Daphne.

Allen Barber

Allen Barber in a production of ‘Godspell’ in 2009.

To deal with the grief and in hope of helping others avoid the pain her family went through, Barber got involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Since 2012, she’s been the chairperson of the Out of the Darkness Walk in Daphne, an annual fundraiser that not only raises money for suicide prevention, but provides a support network for families dealing with the loss of someone they love.

“Finding AFSP and the Out of the Darkness Walk has been very healing for my family,” she said.

This year, well, it’s 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a stop to major gatherings of any kind, including the multiple of Out of the Darkness Walk events that would have taken place across Alabama.

But this, Barber said, is too important an event to just cancel. Mental health issues don’t take a year off, especially during a pandemic, and neither will the Out of the Darkness Walk.

Instead of walking, this year it’s the Out of the Darkness Experience. On Nov. 8, from 2-3 p.m. the event will go virtual.

Participants from Birmingham, Daphne, Montgomery, Huntsville, Muscle Shoals, Dothan and Tuscaloosa will come together online. There will be speakers, music, a bead ceremony, and even a digital memory quilts built from photographs sent in by those who register.

There are other activities people can be involved in in the month leading up to the event. There will be a “Way I Walk – 11 Mile Challenge,” a virtual scavenger hunt, and Out of the Darkness Silent Auction and virtual programs such as “Talk Saves Lives” and “Enhancing Mental Health During COVID-19.”

Registrants can form a team in memory of a loved one, or for a business, church, civic club or the like. When they register, they’ll get a fundraising page that they can share on social media to raise money for AFSP. Anyone who raises $150 by Nov. 8 will get this year’s official Out of the Darkness T-shirt in the mail.

This event won’t just raise money for awareness, but provide people with guidance on how to have a #RealConvo, or real conversation with someone they suspect may be suicidal.

Lydia Barber had discovered some “very deep, some would say, very dark writings” that Allen had done in high school, but when she asked him about it, he dismissed it as just his writing style.

“I sometimes think that if I knew then everything that I have learned since, things may have been different,” Barber said.

“You don’t need special training to have an open, authentic conversation about mental health,” she said. “Often, just talking about it can be the first important step in staying connected for yourself or someone else and helping get support or treatment if needed.”

Here are some quick tips about having a #RealConvo:

· When someone is struggling, just listen.

· Let the other person share at their own speed.

· Don’t pass judgment or offer advice — just be there.

· Check back in, and offer to connect them to help if they need it.

To register for the Out of the Darkness Experience, visit AFSP.org/ALexperience.

Shelly Haskins writes about points of pride statewide. Email your suggestions to [email protected], or tweet them to @Shelly_Haskins using #AlabamaProud

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