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The 4th annual Hope Links Us Together Suicide Prevention Walk scheduled for Saturday has been canceled due to COVID-19. Beacon for Hope executive director Melissa Owen said it was an unfortunate but necessary decision given the rising number of positive cases in the Lyon County community.

“With the uptick that we’re having in our community and knowing that we have a lot of people that come in from surrounding communities, we didn’t want to be the organization that hosted an event where there was a possibility of somebody testing positive for COVID,” she said.

Owen said the group also did not want to change the format of the event to allow for more social distancing.

“We did already have COVID precautions in place, but our event isn’t one where you can really social distance a lot because of the subject matter,” she said. “People are hugging, people are supporting one another.”

An online fundraiser will launch on Beacon for Hope’s Facebook page — — in place of the walk. It will feature new swag through Uncommon Threads.

Owen said, with September being Suicide Prevention Month, it was important to discuss the programs and resources available in the Emporia community. Information about those resources would have been available at the walk, she said, and she wanted to make sure it was readily available to anyone who is struggling or knows someone who is.

Beacon for Hope offers training to small groups and businesses to help identify warning signs for suicide and also to help community members connect each other with the help they need. She said there has been an increase in requests for those training sessions in recent months and she hopes to be able to jumpstart those trainings soon.

“Our goal is to get back to training people again, hopefully in very small groups where we can be socially distanced,” Owen said. “Being able to provide resources that we have available with everything that everybody’s going through — a lot of people don’t know where to turn, what numbers that are available on a national level, 24/7, what the resources that we have here, and being able to provide that and talk to them about the support that is there for them and that they’re not alone.”

The pandemic has seen increased risk for suicide for those who were already struggling and increased reports of anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. Owen said there have been rising numbers of calls to the suicide helplines — which is a good thing.

“This is reassuring because it means people are reaching out,” she said. “We want people to reach out. And you don’t have to be the person in crisis to reach out. I think that’s important for people to know, too, is that if you’re fearful for a family member or a friend and you’re not sure what to do, you can call and talk to a mental health trained professional. They will walk you through what to do.”

Owen said one of the biggest hurdles people identify is the financial aspect when it comes to mental health treatment. She said providers such as Flint Hills Community Health Center and CrossWinds Counseling & Wellness will work with you on the financial side, but it’s not the first thing you should worry about.

“They want you to get the help you need,” she said. “Don’t use that as a barrier for you to reach out for help, because we have amazing counselors here in Emporia here to help you.”

Owen said another fundraising event for the group, the masquerade ball scheduled for November, has been moved to April 9, 2022.

“We’ve chosen April specifically because April has the highest rate of suicides,” she said.

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