ST. CLOUD (WJON News) -- An annual event raising awareness around mental health and suicide returned to St. Cloud in its full form on Sunday.

The Out of the Darkness walk was held in person at Lake George and Eastman Park for the first time since before the start of the COVID pandemic. The purpose of the walk is to remember loved ones, spread hope and support, raise awareness, and save lives with the goal of reducing the number of people who are lost to suicide each year.

First-time event chair Deni Jo Ballanger says this year was a sort of reboot for the walk, but she hopes to keep it going and growing so people who need support have a place to go.

Today you're showing up. You're sending the message that mental health is as real as physical health. You're sending the message that reaching out for help is the strong thing to do. And you're showing others that suicide, which is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., cannot be swept under the rug anymore.

Several booths at the park had resources and merchandise available as well as honor beads and memory buttons for those participating in the walk. A short program was followed by the walk which allowed people the choice to do as many laps as they wanted on either the half-mile or one-mile loops.

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Between the 80 participants and 15 teams, the event nearly met the $10,000 fundraising goal set prior to the walk. All of the money raised will go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to fund research, education, public policy, and support for survivors of suicide and suicide loss.

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