20 Things I’ve Learned from (Almost) 20 Overnight Walks for Suicide Prevention
May 11, 2023 – 5 min read
In 2006, I lost my friend and eighth grade classmate Malaya to suicide. Just 13 years old and facing this tremendous loss, I knew I needed an outlet for my grief and the anger I felt about how unfair it was to lose her so young. Just a year after Malaya died, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) brought the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk – in which people walk from dusk to dawn to raise awareness and funds for suicide prevention – to my hometown of New York City for the first time. This year, I’ll participate in my twentieth Overnight Walk. Here are some tips I’ve learned for those joining us for the first time:
1. It’s not about the miles.
For my first two Overnight Walks, I made it halfway through before heading home because I was 14-15 years old and I wasn’t physically or emotionally prepared, but those experiences (NYC 2007 and 2008) made me want to do the Walk forever. Make sure you take care of yourself and get on a Sweep Van or Buses available for support if you need!
2. Bring extra socks!
We always hope it won’t rain, but it might rain all night (hello, Boston 2015) or it might rain only for a moment at the beginning (hello, NYC 2016). Either way, you’ll be glad to have dry socks.
3. You will never truly walk alone.
The Overnight is an incredibly supportive environment. Washington, D.C., 2013 was the only time I showed up solo, and ten years later I still remember the feeling I got every time a member of the Bike and Motorcycle Crew, or a fellow Walker, approached me to make sure I was doing okay.
4. Bring your own water bottle.
Staying hydrated is super important, especially when it’s hot (hello, Dallas 2018) and this isn’t like a marathon where paper cups litter the route after the event. Might I suggest this water bottle?
5. The Overnight will make you want to do more with AFSP
Once you understand the feeling of community you get from The Overnight, you will look for ways to feel it year-round. After my fourth Overnight, I actually got a job working in AFSP’s National headquarters from 2013-2017. Since that time, I’ve been a board member for the NYC Chapter, and I’m the Brooklyn/Queens, NY Out of the Darkness Community Walk Chair.
16-18 miles is farther than you think it is. I walk all over NYC all the time, but I always wish I’d trained more before my first Overnight by getting in some steps in advance and building up my endurance.
7. You will get the same feeling of fulfillment from Crewing as you do from Walking.
You can be part of The Overnight without walking! Boston 2019 was my first time officially Crewing and I did it again in NYC 2022. I love serving the community in that way and I always gather up a group of friends and family to do it with me. Since there’s no fundraising minimum for Crew, you only have to pay the registration fee, stay up all night, and cheer people on!
8. Find connection in the Overnight community!
If you don’t set up your own team, you can join an open team and connect with the team leader before the event. At the event, approach someone who is wearing the same Honor Bead colors (representing personal connection to the cause) as you and strike up a conversation. Even if no words are exchanged, I’m always struck by the moments when two people notice they’re wearing the same color. The Overnight has given me some incredible friendships.
9. Learn where your fundraising is going!
AFSP does so much with the funds that are raised at the Overnight Walk and consistently has a high ranking on Charity Navigator. People will be excited to donate when you explain the many things AFSP does through its local chapters across the country, such as support for survivors of suicide loss, education programs, advocacy efforts, or that they’re the largest private funder of suicide prevention research in the U.S.
10. Don’t be afraid to ask people for money!
Unfortunately, suicide has touched so many more lives than you even know. When you start talking about your experience, you’ll be amazed how many people will donate and share a part of their own story.
11. Enjoy the snacks!
I always stock up on the snacks at the Rest Stops along the Overnight route, especially if I traveled to get to The Overnight (hello, plane snacks!)
12. Use your Walker Coach!
Every Walker is connected to a personal Walker Coach, who are a treasure trove of ideas and are happy to help. They are passionate about the cause and the event. And then you get to meet them at the event!
13. Don’t forget to pick up your victory shirt.
At the end of the night, you will be physically exhausted while simultaneously energized by the love and support that surrounds you. But there’s still one more prize waiting for you! Be sure to find the tent dispensing victory shirts and get yours. Not only does a long sleeve shirt come in handy in the chilly early morning hours (I was especially grateful for it at San Francisco 2019 when a combination of wind and mist off the bay made the Closing Ceremony extra chilly), but it’s a great keepsake after the event!
14. Decorate your luminaria ahead of time.
At the end of every Overnight, glowing luminaria bags light up the darkness, representing those we have lost. There will be markers and extra paper bags available for decorating at the Ceremony Site, but bringing photos (that you don’t mind losing) or thinking in advance about what you want to write can be helpful and make your luminaria easier to find at the end of the night.
You will find a community of other participants on these social media pages, and The Overnight Team shares lots of fundraising and training ideas from fellow Walkers.
16. Break in your shoes ahead of time.
Don’t wear brand new, never-been-worn shoes to The Overnight! Even the most comfy shoes need to be worn in a little.
17. Watch the Opening and Closing Ceremony
When the Opening Ceremony starts, you may just want to start walking – and by the time the Closing finally happens, you’re ready to go to bed! But the ceremonies are really important. You’ll hear inspiring words from AFSP CEO Bob Gebbia and members of the community. In the Opening Ceremony, you’ll also see the Honor Bead Ceremony, one of the most impactful moments of the night.
18. Eat something at Midnight Snack!
It’s a good opportunity to refuel and take a few minutes to rest so that you’re ready for the rest of the night.
19. Enjoy the sights!
Whether you live in the host city for this year’s Overnight, or have traveled far, you probably haven’t seen the city you’re walking in from quite the same perspective at quite the same time of night. Look around you!
20. The Overnight is what you make of it!
Answer the phone when your Walker Coach calls, talk to someone wearing the same Honor Bead color as you, pay attention to the Ceremonies, and stop at the Rest Stops and Quick Stops. The Overnight is a truly special event and has so much to give. You’ll get as much from it as you put in, and more. I hope to see you there!