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Keys Holds First Suicide Prevention Walk

American Foundation For Suicide Prevention

  The Florida Keys has a national reputation for being laid back and carefree — margaritaville.

But Monroe County, which encompasses the island chain, has the state's highest suicide rate.

This year, a group of volunteers is working to change that. On Thursday, they're holding the first Out of the Darkness walk in the Keys, to raise money and awareness about suicide prevention. The walk starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Monroe County Sheriff's Office on Stock Island.

By Tuesday, more than 200 people had registered for the event and it had exceeded its $25,000 fundraising goal. The money will go to help train police officers, including dispatchers, about how to talk to people who may be considering a suicide attempt, said Mary Lou Hoover, one of the volunteers.

Just in the last eight weeks, 10 people in the Lower Keys have committed suicide, she said.

"They were young people, vibrant — shining stars," she said.

The Keys has a "perfect storm" of people who are vulnerable to suicide attempts, she said, including military, veterans, LGBT and people with addiction issues.

And while some mental health resources are available in Key West, she said the rest of the island chain has little to offer people who are at risk.

Hoover said the goal of this week's walk, and other activities through the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, is to raise awareness and ease the stigma around suicide.

"It's a time of healing for folks who have lost people to suicide, or who have struggled themselves with the thoughts of suicide or depression," she said.