In order to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and increase support for struggling students, community and campus organizations hosted Mental Health Awareness Day and the fifth annual Out of the Darkness Walk this week at Binghamton University.
The Mental Health Awareness Day, held on Friday in the Events Center, featured tabling by local and University-based groups raising awareness on mental health and treatment methods. The event was hosted by the BU’s athletics department, the department of health and wellness studies and a student startup called Runaway.
Runaway, a website that promotes mental health and provides support for those who need it, is developing an app that students could use to talk to volunteers about their problems. Satvik Sethi, the chief executive officer and founder of Runaway and a sophomore majoring in business administration, said the website helped organize the event to increase attention to mental health.
“We’ve been trying to do as much as we can both on and off campus to get people to be talking about mental health,” Sethi said. “The goal here is to just bring out any and every student organization who has the goal of helping mental health.”
Zachary Kaplan, a junior majoring in financial economics, said he pushed for and helped organize Mental Health Awareness Day.
“I think it’s stigmatized in our current world, and promoting awareness is definitely one way to help break that stigma,” Kaplan said. “Statistically, one in four college students suffers from a mental health illness.”
Nicholas Tighe, a senior majoring in economics, heard about the event through his health and wellness studies class and said he came to show support.
“Everybody’s stressing out all the time, everybody’s got their own issues — whether that’s an eating disorder, or it can be anything,” Tighe said. “Especially around finals coming up, some people are graduating, like myself, and it’s definitely very important because I have a lot on my mind.”
The next day, roughly 140 students participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk, raising over $10,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The national organization, which funds research and education for suicide prevention, has chapters in all 50 states with its South Central New York chapter hosting the event. The money raised at the walk will go toward research, advocacy and education for mental health awareness. Half of the money will go to the national organization, and half will stay with the local chapter.
Jack Shearer, a sophomore double-majoring in linguistics and Italian, attended the walk on Saturday and said he thinks it’s an important way to raise awareness for mental health on campus.
“I think mental health awareness is really important because like I feel like, as college students, it’s kind of expected that we are going to be stressed all the time and everyone doesn’t really talk about it in a super serious way,” Shearer said. “People, I feel like, don’t really want to ask for help, especially now because we are independent and supposed to be on our own.”
The walk started with a performance by the a cappella group No Strings Attached, followed by a speech from event organizers Mar Santos, a senior majoring in human development, and Amy Fleury, the secretary of the South Central New York chapter of the AFSP. Participants walked three laps around campus, with volunteers stationed along the way to hand out water.
“The night before my very first walk was a dark one, but somehow I made it out of my bed,” Santos said. “Although I attended the walk alone, I felt far from it. Seeing all of the people who had been touched in some way showed me that I was not alone.”
According to Fleury, a big reason why she wants to help raise awareness is to show people they’re not alone.
“Being caught up in depression, you start to think that you’re isolated and that you are alone, so it’s really important to show that we’re not,” Fleury said.