Multiple student organizations attended the Out of Darkness Walk this Sunday, Sept. 23
Quiet tears slid down the faces of people clad with beads of different colors during the opening speeches at the annual Virginia Peninsula Out of Darkness Walk. The yearly event brings together the Hampton Roads community in late September to fight suicide and raise awareness for mental health issues as a part of National Suicide Prevention month. It does this through their walk and through a donation drive that collected over $16,000 this year.
The event, which occurred on Sept. 23, was put on by the Virginia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, described on their website as “nation’s largest non-profit dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide.” The organization hosts Out of the Darkness walks in various cities, communities, and campuses yearly around the United States.
The Virginia Peninsula walk, located in Newport News Park, began at 10 a.m. and ended around noon with 401 registered participants. The CNU community had a sizeable presence at the event. Brothers from Delta Upsilon and sisters from Alpha Phi and Delta Gamma, as well as members of CNU’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), all walked together to bring awareness to suicide. Some teams of participants wore t-shirts or held up signs bearing the names of loved ones who had died by suicide.
Skylar Reed, a senior at CNU and sister of Delta Gamma, walked for herself and others. “A little over a year ago I lost a good friend and fellow captain to suicide, Austin Germani,” she said. “I also walked for myself. Back in April 2017 I was extremely suicidal and made plans to attempt. If it wasn’t for the support I found in my friends and sisters of Delta Gamma, I truly believe would not be here today. It’s important to speak to others when these thoughts and feelings arise before they can escalate. It’s so imp or t a nt that suicide discussions aren’t kept in the dark anymore.”
Suicide on college campuses has gathered increasing attention in past years due to recent studies on the issue. According a 2016 study done by the Jed Foundation, a non-profit that brings awareness to mental health, the second leading cause of death among college students is suicide. The CDC states that there were 5,723 deaths by suicide in 2016 for people aged 15-24. According to the Jed Foundation, in that same study, mental health conditions also begin to exhibit themselves between the ages of 18-24. Another study done by S.M. De Luca and published in the Community Mental Health Journal in 2016 states that 64% of students that leave college do so because of behavioral health related reasons.
ASFP wants to do something to change that. According to their website, the organization strives to reduce the rate of annual deaths by suicide by 20% by 2025. With donations from events like the Out of the Darkness walks, AFSP puts the money towards outreaches such as mental health education programs, scientific research, and Survivor Day events for those who are direct survivors of suicide loss.
By showing up today, you are sending the message that mental health is as real as physical healthLetitia Laurien
Letitia Laurien, president of the Virginia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, greeted the participants in her speech before the walk began. “ By showing up today, you are sending the message that mental health is as real as physical health. You are showing others that suicide, which is currently the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, can no longer be swept under the rug.” Laurien is, in her own words, “a social worker, therapist, mental health advocate, and supporter of suicide prevention.”
Laurien further reiterated the importance of the event, “By showing up, you let others know they are not alone.”
Multiple vendors were set up in the park before the walk, including a table from the US Department of Veterans Affairs promoting the Veterans Crisis Line and the Dreams of Hope Foundation, a Hampton Roads family charity that provides mental health services, including bereavement groups for those facing suicide loss.
Tables underneath a gazebo in Newport News Park provided free suicide prevention buttons, informational pamphlets from AFSP and other organizations present, and a rainbow of different Honor Bead necklaces with each color representing different connections to suicide and mental illness. The meaning of the colors are listed in the graphic below.
By wearing the beads, the participants silently showcased their connections to mental illness, making sure they did not leave the issue of suicide in the darkness.