Four years ago, Melody Seiger and a group of coworkers from Fulton State Hospital attended the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Out of the Darkness walk in St. Louis. They organized a walk in Fulton the following year and made it their goal to gain AFSP chapter status in five years. Now, three years later, they have it.
They are now the AFSP Mid Missouri Chapter. Seiger is the chapter's chairperson.
"I am amazed at the support I've had from the community. I'm overwhelmed because I never thought it would be this big," Seiger said. "I never thought they were going to give me 49 counties. We are working really hard to come up with a plan to make sure we are bringing awareness all across Missouri not just in our small little area, but up and down the state."
Seiger said she is proud of the work the group of volunteers has done.
The chapter's Fulton Out of the Darkness walk is on Sept. 27 this year and is the group's third in Fulton. The walk is one of AFSP's suicide awareness events that all chapters must hold annually nationwide. Seiger said the purpose of the walk is to raise awareness about mental health issues and suicide. It is also an opportunity, Seiger said, for those who have experienced a loss to remember their loved ones.
"For people who has lost someone, it really gives them a sense that they are doing something to help and they really are," Seiger said. "They are putting a face to something that is serious and helping us raise awareness."
Seiger said to gain and maintain chapter status, chapters must create a business plan and hold an Out of the Darkness walk, a fundraiser and an International Survivors of Suicide Day conference each year. The group applied for chapter status, created a business plan and interviewed with the AFSP board. They became an official chapter on July 18. The Mid Missouri Chapter includes 49 counties in central Missouri from the top of the state to the bottom.
Seiger talked to University of Missouri students about holding an Out of the Darkness walk on campus in the spring. Money raised from the Out of the Darkness walks goes toward programs to educate communities and provide them with resources related to mental health awareness.
The Mid Missouri Chapter also trains suicide support group facilitators. Facilitators lead support groups for those who have lost someone to suicide. Seiger said in the future, Missouri ASFP chapters would like to advocate for Missouri passing the Jason Flatt Act, which would require Missouri schools to give teachers and students mandatory training on suicide prevention every couple years.
Currently, ASFP has a video package program that schools can request to educate classes on mental health, the signs of suicide and resources to get help. The program is called the More Than Sad Program.
The Mid Missouri Chapter will meet at 6 p.m. on Aug. 19 at Sir Winston's in Fulton. Seiger said anyone interested in joining the chapter or learning more can attend. Chapter information is also available at afsp.org.
Megan Favignano can be reached at (573) 826-2417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.