Kelly Kutz and her walking partner at this year’s Out of the Darkness Walk both lost a loved one to suicide.
Kutz has walked and volunteered in the event, which raises money and awareness for suicide prevention, since 2010, at the recommendation of a counselor after her father took his own life. Bo, a 7-year-old golden retriever, stood at her side at Sidney Friedman Park on Sunday before she and 814 others made their way through the borough to honor and remember those that died and to work toward preventing future loss.
When Kutz lost her dad five years ago, Bo lost his owner.
“He’s my dog now,” said Kutz, of Bellefonte.. “But he’s also Dad’s dog, so we walk together.”
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Kutz recalled that her father asked her to take care of Bo about a week before he died, she said. Five years ago, Kutz said she could tell Bo knew something was wrong. To this day, he gets very nervous when she leaves him alone, and stays very close when they are together. Kutz said she thinks that Bo is afraid she won’t come back.
Stories like Kutz’s — and Bo’s — are common, said Brenda Fry, chairwoman of the Central Pennsylvania chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The chapter covers 22 counties and holds similar events across the region like the one in State College on Sunday.
Many of the walkers in the event were directly affected by suicide, Fry said. Every 13 minutes, someone takes their own life, she said. About 20 percent of people have a family member, and 70 percent of the population will know someone, a friend or co-worker, who has taken their own life.
“Every time I come, I hear people tell their stories and I’m moved,” she said.
Fry said she got involved in suicide awareness after a college friend committed suicide.
This year, the walk raised $40,000 for the cause, Fry said. Half of the proceeds go to the national organization for research on suicide prevention.
The other half stays in Centre County for education and prevention programs, she said. Volunteers with local chapters teach classes to community groups, high school classes, church groups and others about ways to recognize the signs of depression, suicide risks and resources available for people in crisis.
The programs are especially aimed at eliminating the stigma around suicide and depression. Visible events like the walks help toward this goal, she said.
“We want people to know it’s OK to ask for help,” she said.
Kutz said participating in the walk, and helping others, has helped with her healing process after her father’s death. Right after it happened, she didn’t want to talk about it. Counseling helped, she said, but the walk put her in touch with other people dealing with the same loss. There are lots of hugs, lots of support and lots of understanding, she said.
After volunteering the first time, she said she wanted to volunteer more, and this year, she served on the planning committee for the walk. She hopes to earn a spot on the local American Foundation for Suicide Prevention board.
The drive to assist others might even affect her career path, she said. She would like to work with the Wounded Warriors Program and help veterans dealing with depression and mental health issues, she said.
That segment of the population is at especially high risk of taking their own lives. Veterans make up about 22 percent of suicides nationally, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“So many people have helped me,” she said. “I have to give it back.”