Bringing mental illness into the light

With her annual Out of the Darkness Walk, resident Kyra Berry hopes to raise awareness about mental issues and suicide prevention.

Sue Berry/Special to The Sun: Sue and daughter Kyra Berry pose for a photo at last year’s Out of the Darkness Walk.

Since she was diagnosed at age 13 with major depressive disorder, Kyra Berry, now 19, has fought a daily battle with her mental illness. In sharing her story and encouraging others to do the same, while getting the help they need, she has found a peace and purpose that help her to keep going.

Four years ago, while in her junior year at Lenape High School, Kyra decided she wanted to spread this peace she had found to others like her by organizing the Burlington County Out of the Darkness Walk to prevent suicide with help from her mother Sue, who now serves as a co-chair for the walk.

Returning for its fourth year, the event will be taking place Saturday, Oct. 19, at Laurel Acres Park in Mt. Laurel. Sign-in and registration will begin at 9 a.m. and the walk will take place 10 a.m. to noon. Those wishing to register to participate in the walk, or simply donate to the cause, can do so at afsp.org/burlingtonco.

Like many who share her condition, at first, Kyra felt like she was the only one feeling the way she did.

“It was a really difficult time in my life, feeling like I was alone and no one really understood what I was going through,” said Kyra.

She is grateful that she had a solid community of friends and family at the time to help support her through this experience and recognizes that not everyone has a similar support system in place.

“I wanted to start this walk to get everyone talking about mental illness, mental health and suicide prevention. These are all real things that none of us talk about,” said Kyra.

One of the goals of the walk is to inform people about the resources available to them and of the fact that they don’t have to suffer in silence or feel like they are alone in their suffering. According to Kyra, there will be a table set up at the walk featuring a variety of information about these resources and where people can go for help.

In addition to pointing participants toward professional help, the event serves as a community builder for people like Kyra. Last year, the event drew around 350 people, most with some connection, either personal or familial, to mental illness and suicide.

“Another great resource at the walk is really the people there,” said Sue. “What happens at this event is everybody starts to talk to each other and they start sharing their stories.”

All proceeds from the walk go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which has acted as Kyra’s partner in this endeavor. Last year, they were able to raise $40,000 for the organization.

After registration, the upcoming walk will begin with an opening ceremony where Kyra will speak followed by state Sen. Troy Singleton and a representative from the AFSP.

For more information about the walk, including registration and donation options, visit afsp.org/burlingtonco.