Maryann Becker has been walking regularly to get in shape. Her 20-mile walk to raise awareness for suicide prevention is June 9. Up to 2,000 other walkers are expected to participate in this New York City event, which is held only at night.

Maryann Becker has been walking regularly to get in shape. Her 20-mile walk to raise awareness for suicide prevention is June 9. Up to 2,000 other walkers are expected to participate in this New York City event, which is held only at night.

The Out of Darkness Overnight Walk is not an athletic competition or race. There will be no times kept or records broken. Becker, who lives in Stone Ridge in Ulster County, is walking to do exactly what the walk is purposed for — to help people understand that suicide is preventable. She is also walking to help herself heal; she lost a sister to suicide 25 years ago.

"The walk will be therapeutic," she said. "Even now, some raw emotions still come up. I get angry with (my sister) for making the choice to take her own life."

She said that in a way, the emotional carnage the suicide victim leaves behind makes the survivors victims also.

Becker's sister was only 24 years old when she died. After her sister's death, Becker went into therapy. She found out it is not uncommon for survivors to feel guilty. Part of the emotional aftermath is being left with the feeling that the death could have been prevented if the survivor had reached out or done something, in one way or another. A quarter-century after the fact, Becker is still struggling with the loss and with the truth that she is not responsible for Lory's death.

"I may never get over believing that if I had called her the day she shot herself, she might not have picked up a gun," Becker said. "This was not like a car accident or an illness, which I would not have had any control over. But, making a simple phone call ...."

Becker was glad that her sister, who was Catholic, received the same funeral rites as anyone else. "I think the church has moved away from the notion that suicide is a sin. It now recognizes it as an illness, like any other disease. That really helps remove the stigma associated with suicide, too."

"About 90 percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death," said Robert Gebbia, the executive director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Manhattan. "Suicide is a national health problem that has been kept a secret for too long."

The Overnight Walk will start late at night to metaphorically dramatize the need to shed light on a taboo subject, Gebbia explained. Those with mental disorders and those who have considered taking their own lives have walked in past Overnights.

"They come 'out of the darkness' of their own mental discomfort and into the 'light' of recovery through treatment and support," Gebbia said. "They only want the pain to stop and professional help is available."

According to the Center for Disease Control, 30,000 people kill themselves in the United States every year. That's an average of 87 suicides per day. In New York State, 1,200 deaths are caused by suicide. It's the third leading cause of death among ages 15-24, fifth for ages 25-44 and eighth for ages 45-54.

In Ulster County, where Becker's sister lived, the Medical Examiner's Office unofficially attributed 35 deaths to suicide since June 1, 2006. Revised 2005 New York State Department of Health statistics show that, on average since 2002, 31 of every 100,000 Ulster residents have taken their own lives. In Sullivan, 25 of every 100,000 residents commit suicide. The statistics are highest in Orange, where 67 residents have killed themselves per 100,000.

Each of the walkers, like Becker, must raise at least $1,000. The money will go toward funding suicide prevention research, supporting survivors of suicide loss and funding education and awareness programs. Becker created her own Web site to explain what she hopes to do. So far, she has raised $1,095.

Last summer, Overnight Walks were held in Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Gebbia said the New York Overnight will have rest stations and shuttles to help people complete the 20-mile walk. "Fittingly," he said, "many will cross the finish line as the sun rises through the concrete canyons of the city that never sleeps."

Therapy is important for suicide survivors, Becker said. "It's hard to get through something like this by yourself."

Becker's religious faith was her lifeline. She also counseled with a specialist who deals in grief therapy and advises others to do the same. There are a lot of support groups for survivors, too.

Each county in New York has hot line numbers for those who need help and are thinking about suicide.

Sullivan County has a mobile Mental Health Team that will travel anywhere in the county to anyone in distress. That number is 800-710-7083 (it is also linked to the emergency number 911).

Orange County also has a mobile unit that can get to anyone who calls and transport that person to the nearest hospital (if necessary). That 24-hour hot line number is 888-750-2266. There is also a crisis hot line number that provides emotional support, crisis intervention and makes referrals (for survivors, too). That number is 800-832-1200.

Ulster County has hot line numbers in the following locations:

Kingston: 338-2370 Woodstock: 679-2485 New Paltz: 255-8801 Ellenville: 647-2443

Becker said she believes the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk will help people deal with a subject they don't understand or don't want to talk about.

"We have to talk about it, "she said, "and start saving lives."