Sep. 20—Participants in the Out of the Darkness Walk in Albert Lea raised more than $40,000 this weekend in effort to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention.
Organizer Darcy Nielsen said the walk on Saturday was the largest for the event since its inception in Albert Lea. The event was put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and started at Trinity Lutheran Church for a brief ceremony before the walk began. Once the walk began, participants walked north on Broadway to Fountain Street and then around a portion of Fountain Lake to New Denmark Park and back again.
Nielsen said it had been a challenging year for many in Albert Lea this year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Know that you are not alone," said Eileen Woyen, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church. "You matter — you are one of God's wonderful creations, and you are loved."
Michelle Lacher of Wells shared her and her family's struggle with mental health and suicide and said from a young age, she remembers going to her mom and telling her she didn't want to live anymore, and her mother told her it was something she should just live with. At that time, mental health and suicide were not talked about nearly as much as they are today.
Lacher said she struggled with her own mental health well into motherhood, and one of her children has also been suicidal.
"Had his sister not have paid attention, we would have not been here. ..." she said. "I decided I was no longer OK with being silent."
She said she also had suicidal thoughts earlier this year during many challenges in her life and finally admitted to herself "it's OK not to be OK."
Nielsen encouraged people to visit the Fish Sunflower fields near Manchester, as there is a field dedicated to mental health and suicide awareness. The fields opened Friday at 72056 255th St.
Nielsen said she wasn't sure what to expect with this year's event, so the goal had been set at $13,000. The amount raised was more than triple of the goal.