6th annual Out of the Darkness fundraiser gathers communities, spreads awareness of suicide, depression, mental illnesses


Photos by Poppy Harrington '25

People wear honor beads at the event to display their connection to the cause. Each color means something different. Loss of a child (white), loss of spouse or partner (red), loss of a parent (gold), loss of a sibling (orange), loss of relative or a friend (purple), personal struggles or attempt (green), Supporting someone who has struggles or has attempted (teal), supporting suicide prevention, honoring the LGBTQ+ community (rainbow).

The annual Out of the Darkness walk took place to raise awareness of suicide, depression and other mental illnesses on Oct. 22, from 11 a.m. -1 p.m. in front of the Westport Public Library. To support the month-long suicide awareness campaign, Westporters and citizens of Fairfield County participated in the fundraiser by walking a mile around town. 

Out of the Darkness aims to reduce 20% of the annual suicide rate by 2025. Fairfield county walk raised $131,600 however other states participated in this fundraiser. 

Gretchen Mergenthaler walked in memory of her nephew. 

This walk is a good way to come together and bring the issue to the forefront. Reach out to organizations and your friends to spread awareness about the issue

— Gretchen Mergenthaler



This walk is a good way to come together and bring the issue to the forefront. Reach out to organizations and your friends to spread awareness about the issue,” Mergenthaler said. 

Marissa and Kayli Tarcy, twin sisters, have participated each year and walk in memory of their brother, Derek Tarcy, who committed suicide 10 years ago after struggling with bipolar disorder. 

“Both of us have gone through a little bit of therapy. I think just finding your support system and a good group of friends and family,” Kayli said. “Most importantly, being open and talking about it and not just hiding your feelings, communicating with your family and bringing up the good memories you had with your lost one.” 

Before the walk, people gather together with their friends and family in front of the Westport Public Library.

This is the sixth year Staples students and Westport citizens have participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk and many walk in remembrance of two lives lost in 2016. Christopher Lanni took his own life as a freshman at Staples High School. Later that same year, Cody Thomas, a 27 year old Staples English teacher, who took his life one month later. 

“It unites our communities and provides an opportunity to acknowledge the ways in which suicide and mental health conditions have affected our lives and the lives of those we love and care about,” the website American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states. 

There is an extremely strong correlation between suicide and teenagers. Many high schoolers face many battles such as social struggles, stress about succeeding or pressure to fit in. According UCLA health, 20% of high schoolers have had serious thoughts of suicide in 2020. 

Participants walking along the Saugatuck river and the Westport Public Library as they finish up the mile long walk.

Darien high school principal, Ellen Dunn, first-handedly experienced how important it is to bring down the rates of suicide in teens.

“We have experienced losses at Darien high school and our community is here together to spread that message of suicide awareness,” Dunn said. 

Ultimately, the Walk left a lot of participants with hope and a drive to make a difference.  After losing her daughter, Karen Weigman, 18 years ago, she got involved with different eventsand started the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She participated in fundraisers and started support groups to help people who lost someone just like she did. 

“The ache in your heart and the missing of that person never goes away. Someone told me once that’s the price of love,” Wiegman said. “I asked them how do you do this? He said, ‘You put one foot in front of the other because what’s your choice.”