The fourth annual Walk for Wellness and Suicide Prevention will take place this month on Sept. 13th, beginning at 3 p.m. at the Lacombe Memorial Centre.
The event is a four-part day that incorporates resource sharing, a program of local speakers, the downtown trek and a community barbeque.
This event is not a fundraiser, but is simply to gain and promote awareness of mental health issues in the community, with a focus on suicide prevention.
“It’s not supposed to be a mournful event. There is a memorial wall that people can put their photo on, but we want to balance it between hope and positivity and reality. It is the Walk for Wellness and Suicide Prevention, but the point is wellness,” explained Barb Walker of Neighborhood Place.
“Over the last three years, altogether, there have probably been about 700 people or more who have attended. The first hour is resource tables and refreshments that are donated. There are so many resources in the community that people don’t know about and that’s the whole purpose – for those organizations to be there and help people find their way.”
Following the resource sharing opportunity, members of the Lacombe community will provide speaking presentations relating to their personal struggles and accomplishments regarding wellness and suicide.
“We’ve purposefully kept it to local speakers because this is a problem that happens in families in our own community. We want people to get talking about their own journey, whether they’ve suffered the loss from suicide of a person close to them, or whether they themselves have come back from that point,” Walker explained.
“We really, really need to talk about the hurt that is out there and we really need to talk about the help that is out there. Both of those things are there and until people start talking about it and start removing the shame from it, we can’t help one another.”
The third hour of the event is the actual walking portion, where members will don white shirts for visibility and walk through downtown, carrying signs with encouraging statements on them.
The last portion of the event includes a community barbeque.
This is a time for members of the community to meet one another and to engage in thoughtful discussion on mental wellness and suicide prevention techniques. People are encouraged to get to know members of their community through this portion of the day.
Walker said, “The biggest problem I see about the whole idea of mental wellness is that it is something people don’t want to talk about because they’re afraid of it.”
She said that in regards to addressing mental issues, the process starts with open conversation.
“It starts with open conversations between people and so one of the things we are promoting is simply the phrase, ‘Are you okay?’. We’ve made these tote bags that say Lacombe’s Annual Walk for Wellness, but they also say, ‘Are you okay?’ on them.
“The idea is that a simple, sincere ‘Are you okay?’ can start a real conversation that can make a real difference.” Tote bags have also been designed for the event, promoting the title of the event and the phrase as well.
New this year is the addition of three ‘wellness evenings’ that will occur throughout the year. Walker said one of the talks is specifically targeted to youths, while another will address and explore alternative means to wellness. The third segment will be an in-depth look at mental wellness at all stages of life, from infant to senior.
Walker said the event is important to its attendees and is a benefit to the community because it can open the door to conversations about mental wellness. She said the walk has grown since its inception and that she can see its value in the community.
“One of my jobs as the Neighborhood Place coordinator is to respond to the needs of the community. One day about four years ago, Heather Jackson walked into my office and asked if there was someone who could help her put together a walk for wellness and suicide prevention. Her family had experienced a loss to suicide,” Walker explained.
“I said, yes we can and proceeded to figure out how. We applied for a grant from Alberta Injury Prevention so for the first two years we got grants, and that’s how it ran. Last year and this year, it is fully supported by the community, which is fantastic. That means people obviously see the value in it.”
The walk is free to community members of all ages, and will offer a wide variety of resources and information regarding mental wellness and suicide prevention.