By Brandon Latham/Matters of the Mind
Every spring on college campuses around the country, Out of Darkness Campus Walks are held by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to raise both awareness and funds for suicide prevention efforts.
The April 12, 2015 walk at the University of Maryland was the largest in the country and has raised $22,970 of its $25,000 goal as of April 26, according to an event organizer. The organization will accept donations through the end of June.
A majority of the attendees were millennials in college. Here are some participants and their responses to the simple inquiry: “Why are you here and why do these events matter?”
Leah Sukri was a student organizer for the Out of Darkness walk.
On why she was there: “I am a volunteer at the health center, which is the Maryland peer counseling crisis intervention hotline, so we are trained to deal with suicide. I was contacted by AFSP, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, last year. I really got involved with it. I think it’s a really important cause that people, I feel, don’t take as seriously as others. So I thought it was a really important cause and I really, really loved it, so I came back again this year to help out with it and that’s how it all started for me.
On why events like this one are important: “Because there is a stigma for mental health. And I think it’s important that we talk about it and not make it seem like a crime to talk about it. So I think it’s really important to show we are here, we’re talking about it, it’s okay, it’s important.”
Chris Noronha and Danielle Warren were volunteers at the event.
Danielle on why she was there: “I’m a full-time intern at the health center, so I’m in the wellness program so we do a lot with mental health and mental stigma and stuff like that. Chris is actually one of my peers, we’re in the health group which is living healthy lifestyles. So this is just a big event for us to help break stigma around campus, and to tell people that there’s resources here on campus.”
Chris on why events like this one are important: “Suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death here on campuses, so it’s a pretty important cause. It’s easily prevented with just a couple words at least, so that’s why it’s important to me.”
Varun Chandran walked to support a friend.
On why he was there:“I have a friend who has an eating disorder. She suffered because of it for a while so that’s pretty much why I’m here.”
Laniece Stevens (right) walked because she is studying to become a counselor.
On why she was there:“I’m here because I’m getting my master’s in school counseling at Trinity University and this is one of the events we could do for extra credit as far as learning more about clinical mental health programs.”
On why events like this one are important: “I think it’s important because it gives people opportunities who are suffering with depression the chance to speak his mind and just tell them the issues and just help them overcome any suicidal thoughts or anything like that.”
Cyd Igot attended the walk to share her “A Letter for You” initiative.
On why she was there:“I used to work in mental health in Montgomery County (Maryland). I used to help folks with persistent mental illness ages 18 to 25 find jobs and all of this started to surface. You know, all the things they survived, and the traumas, being bullied, rape, abuse. All those things seemed to get in the way of day-today function like getting out of bed, getting a job, smiling, eating.
“So I started asking people I knew to write letters. What I discovered was that people who survive something don’t actually want to be seen. They don’t want their identities to be out there in the world. They don’t want to have to feel vulnerable. But I needed to find a way for them to get positive support, so I started collecting letters from strangers to survivors of violence, rape, trauma and bullying. What I realized when I started asking strangers is that they all wanted to see the website. So though a lot of this started with visits to the psych ward, it actually isn’t mental illness oriented at all; it’s about mental wellness.”
On why events like this are important:“Events like this are important because the most surprising thing about these letters is that they make people feel human, they make people feel acknowledged. I was basically a social worker for a while so I was in the community fixing things and doing stuff. And this project, which basically lets people know they are important and that they matter, did so much more for my clients than I ever could. I think survivors of any kind, of anything just need to know that we see them and that we’re paying attention and that we’re doing something.”
Click through the gallery of photos taken at University of Maryland Out of Darkness walk.