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Choosing life: Hundreds take to Columbia sidewalks for the many more still struggling

The Out of the Darkness Walk aims to help prevent suicide right here in the Palmetto State.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Over 500 people advanced across the Columbia Riverwalk on Sunday afternoon aiming to advance awareness of suicide prevention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

Organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) work to lower these numbers all over the nation, including right here in South Carolina. Today, the South Carolina chapter of this organization held its annual Out of the Darkness Walk.

“I’m just happy my baby is still here," says Aja Shepherd who locked arms with her daughter Kaitlyn Burroughs this weekend in support of each other and all of those struggling with suicide.

“She did attempt this past April so we are just here in support," Shepherd said. "My aunt has been doing this for years, she works for Columbia Mental Health; so, she’s been doing it for years and so she said this year we had a different purpose of supporting. So we decided to do our own team.”

Kaitlyn is thankful her family is there to support her. 

“It means everything that even after everything that happened, that they’re still here to support me and do this for mental health and everything," she said. "It’s just amazing and I love them so much.”

“Today, we’re really bringing hope, we’re raising money, we’re doing some fundraising but also, ultimately, the people who are here today are either struggling themselves or have lost a loved one to suicide," the area director for AFSP in South Carolina, John Tjaarda, said. 

“When somebody loses someone to suicide, that affects so many people. It’s one of the strangest griefs," Tjaarda added. "They go through anger, they go through hate, resentment, loss, sadness, grief, all kinds of things so it's very important to have as many outlets for them for their mental health as they move forward in their lives.”

But Kaitlyn offered some advice.

“If you’re struggling with any mental health issues, talk to somebody about it," she said. "It truly helps to let it all out and let out the pain. Just don’t do what I did, please.”

For more information and resources for suicide prevention, visit this website.