Students gathered Sunday afternoon to honor those lost to suicide and raise money to build awareness and prevention.
Resident assistants Erin Barnes and Matthew Reiss worked with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to host one of the foundation’s “Out of the Darkness” campus walks, raising over $7,500 — an amount that has already exceeded their $5,000 goal and is still growing.
Over 100 participants participated in the walk in honor of loved ones lost to suicide and to prevent future deaths, carrying signs to show support and wearing shirts with encouraging words. One t-shirt read, “You are not alone and this is not the end of your story.”
“It’s a lot of pulling people out of that darkness, showing them, ‘You are part of this greater community of people that know how you feel and understand what’s going on,’” said Barnes, a senior majoring in bioengineering.
Rachel Joseph, who helped Barnes and Reiss to spread the word about the walk, raised over $600 in honor of her friend and roommate Katie, who she lost to suicide last semester. Joseph talked about the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“Just as if somebody were to have a physical illness, and they go to a doctor, if you have a mental illness, then you shouldn’t feel like it’s a bad thing to go and get help for that,” said Joseph, a junior majoring in geology. “Going to a psychologist or psychiatrist shouldn’t be looked at as a weakness but as a strength, and as somebody who’s trying to overcome something that’s very difficult. And there should be a lot of support for anybody who wants to go and get that help.”
Barnes and Reiss began planning the walk last semester along with AFSP, an organization focused on “understanding and preventing suicide through research, education, and advocacy,” according to their website.
The Hinman RAs said they hope to encourage open and honest conversations about suicide and how many people are affected by it.
“I think that a lot of people don’t believe that it happens as much as it does,” Barnes said. “Showing that there was that outpouring of support for people that are undergoing anything with mental health … allows people to understand that there’s a sense of normalcy to it, and when there’s a sense of normalcy, they’re more willing to … get help for it.”
Reiss said students on campus should not hesitate to use the University Counseling Center if they need someone to talk to.
“There’s people that understand out there; you just have to look for them and they’re more than willing to be of help to you,” said Reiss, a junior majoring in bioengineering. “There are other resources out there that can be of help if you are in trouble of if you’re struggling with something.”
Joseph said the walk was an opportunity to show support for others who have grieved the loss of a loved one to suicide, as well as show support for individuals who may be dealing with depression.
“I was so happy and grateful to be able to do something to honor Katie,” Joseph said. “For all of us who knew Katie to come together and be on this walk — it was a great experience.”
Sunday’s walk also featured bracelet making by Circle K and keynote speaker Mark Rice from the University Counseling Center. Reiss said Active Minds student group and PKE fraternity also volunteered at the event.
“We expected way less, so we were actually ecstatic,” Barnes said. “It turned out to be a great day.”
Donations to the walk are still being accepted online.