Students on campuses across the country are walking “Out of the Darkness” to fundraise for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The trek at the University at Albany Saturday is one of more than 550 campus, community, and overnight walks taking place across the country this year. Kicking off at noon, fundraising teams will circle the academic podium four times: for hope, healing, prevention, and awareness. Event Chair Robert Cardom says the walk is intentionally visual, in plain sight of classrooms and residence halls.
“So we’re really trying to, one, honor the people who have experienced suicide, either through personal struggles or family friends, things like that," explains Cardom. "[We also want to] provide a space for healing. And also, mental health is an invisible identity, and I think this is one opportunity to bring it out into light and to reduce mental health stigma.”
Of course, walkers don’t need to donate or join a team to participate – but UAlbany has already raised more than half its $12,000 goal. Together, Out of the Darkness walks nationwide raised more than $21 million for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The Foundation’s Capital Region and South Central New York Director, Nicole DeCelle, says the funds go back into local communities.
“One of the things that we aim to do is to create stronger campuses," DeCelle says. "And we do that through our prevention education and awareness programs that are centered around having real conversations about the importance of mental health…how you can ask for help yourself, or how you can help a friend or a loved one.”
The Foundation says suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S., taking more than 47,000 lives in 2017. The rate is highest among white, middle-aged men, but DeCelle says mental health issues can and do affect everyone. She says high-stress situations, like financial or relationship troubles, can put someone at risk of suicide. If a loved one suddenly seems distant, she says starting a conversation is the biggest step to getting help.
“It’s really important to be there for them," DeCelle explains. "And simply saying to them ‘You don’t seem like yourself, you don’t seem like you’re OK.’ And eventually asking the hard question, ‘Do you think you need help, or do you want help?’”
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college-age students. Melissa Fallon-Korb, Director of the Counseling, Health, and Wellness Center at SUNY Oneonta, says that’s a big reason these campus walks are important.
“Just the level of stress that students are under," she notes. "They really left home for the first time, and have to deal with a lot of really big issues, like drinking and sexual assault – but just kind of figuring out ‘How do I navigate this really complex social situation?’”
SUNY Oneonta will also host its walk Saturday with a goal of raising $5,000. Participants can register at the college’s Hunt Union Ballroom at 1 p.m., with the walk starting at 2 p.m.
When Skidmore College hosted its first Out of the Darkness walk last year, a surprising 100 participants turned out. Associate Dean of Student Affairs for Health and Wellness Julia Routbort says the college’s April 28 walk looks to raise $5,000 and build upon that success.
“We have folks from our lacrosse teams, our hockey teams, our peer health educators," says Routbort. "We’re also reaching out more to members of the larger Saratoga [Springs] community. So we’ve got folks from Saratoga Hospital who are gonna be walking, folks from the community, Newport News, which is a local business, is one of our co-sponsors – so this year I think we’re really emphasizing bringing the larger Saratoga Springs community into the walk.”
Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko will open the event at 1:30 p.m. on the college’s Case Center Green. Skidmore senior Arielle Knight says she’s walking to promote a more positive outlook on mental health.
“Stigmatization is something that has plagued mental illness since the dawn of time, and any way that we can chip at that is productive," Knight notes. "And just fostering a sense of support in the community is something that I want to promote.”
Other colleges and universities in the WAMC listening area that are hosting walks this month include:
Western New England University (Springfield, MA): April 14 at 11 a.m. on the Commonwealth Lawn
Westchester Community College (Valhalla, NY): April 27 at 10 a.m.
UMass Amherst (Amherst, MA): April 28 at 10:30 a.m. on the Student Union South Lawn
SUNY New Paltz (New Paltz, NY): April 28 at 11 a.m. at the Student Union Building
University of Hartford (West Hartford, CT): April 28 at 11 a.m. on the Village Lawn
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for anyone in crisis. The Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting "TALK" to 741741.