The Saturday, June 5th, is Hike for Hope, here in Alabama. This annual event is hosted by the Alabama chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and AdventureKEEN is a supporter this year. They have a lot going on building awareness around suicide prevention, community solutions, and helping draft governmental policies. We caught up with Amber Henderson, Board member and volunteer coordinator for the Alabama Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and asked a few questions ahead of their Hike for Hope event.
Q: In helping people throughout Alabama, what are a few of the things your group focuses on throughout the year?
A: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. We create a culture that is smart about mental health through education and community programs, research and advocacy, and support for those affected by suicide.
Through the work of our local volunteers, walk participants, advocates, and partners, we are helping to change attitudes about suicide and mental health. The Alabama Chapter engages with families, mental health professionals, community and local business leaders, and school administrators and faculty, as well as others interested in preventing suicide. By working together to improve the health and well-being of Alabamians, we are connecting people to resources and programs and removing barriers that stand in the way of people finding hope and healing.
Q: There are lots of ways to raise money. Why hiking?
A: Physical activity has been shown to improve mental health, and studies have indicated that spending time in nature reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. Hiking seemed like a natural choice to promote well-being.
Q: How have things been for your organization during the pandemic?
A: Navigating through the uncertainty and restrictions of the pandemic has definitely been an adjustment for us, but we feel the work we’re doing is more important than ever. We quickly adapted many of our prevention education programs to a virtual format, and since last year, the Alabama Chapter has hosted over 900 attendees through our virtual and in-person prevention education programs, speaking engagements, Advocacy Forum, and Survivor Day event.
Q: Generally speaking, how have things been for the people your group is advocating for?
A: Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in this country. It touches millions of lives—people of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds—but the research is clear: suicide is preventable, and the more people who stand up for suicide prevention and mental health, the more lives we can save.
It may be some time before we can fully know the extent of COVID-19’s impact on rates of suicide in 2020 and 2021, but it’s fair to say that the pandemic has created stress for people, with many feeling isolated from their loved ones and from their pre-pandemic routines. It’s also worth reminding ourselves (and others) that Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic communities in particular have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a variety of challenging experiences for people, no matter if you have a personal struggle, are concerned about a family member or someone close to you, or have experienced a loss. It is crucial in this time that we focus on shoring up our mental health and well-being.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your group right now?
A: While our work and goals remain the same, our challenge now is to determine how we can best engage and bring hope to people in a post-pandemic world. We know our work is needed now more than ever. Mental health and preventing suicide must continue to be a top priority.
We are thankful for the work that AFSP is doing and hope you will check in with those around you, talk openly about mental health, and take care of yourself—you are not alone! To register or learn more about Hike for Hope, visit www.afsp.org/ALHikeforHope. To learn other ways you can get involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, visit www.afsp.org.
We are in this together, and help is always available. If you’re feeling alone and struggling, you can also reach out to The Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.