Hundreds of University of Maine students, athletes, campus organizations, and community members joined the Out Of the Darkness Walk, Sunday, Oct. 4th, to support suicide prevention.
The seventh-annual Out of the Darkness Walk was held on Sunday, Oct. 4 at the University of Maine to promote awareness and destigmatize suicide.
The walk raises money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), which coordinates thousands of walks each year.
“About one in 10 college students seriously contemplates suicide,” Dr. Kelly Shaw, an outreach coordinator and staff psychologist at the UMaine Counseling Center — and the main coordinator of the event — said. She also added that UMaine averages one student death by suicide per year.
Debbie Gilpatrick, a Communications Specialist at St. Joseph Hospital and one of the sponsors of the walk, emphasized the hospital’s unwavering support of suicide prevention.
“We are proud to be a sponsor of this event. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is the leader in the fight against suicide. They fund research, offer educational programs, advocate for public policy, and support those affected by suicide,” Gilpatrick said. “Our mission, at St. Joseph Hospital is to support this cause, because it affects us all as a community.”
AFSP says that there were 41,149 reported suicide deaths in 2013, the most recent year for which data was available. In that same year, a suicide occurred every 12.8 minutes, making it the 10th leading cause of death. Males comprise 75 to 80 percent of all suicide deaths, although females comprise 75 percent of all non-fatal attempts.
“I know a lot of people struggling. It feels good to be doing something proactive,” Katina Gogos, a third-year elementary education student, said.
Community members from various sports teams, Greek Life and other organizations came out to support all those affected by suicide.
“I have a couple of friends back home that have been affected by this situation,” Micheal Stinson, a second-year elementary education student and Pi Beta Phi member said.
New this year was the Wall of Hope, a large, blank cloth for people to write messages to loved ones.
“Together we can fix a crack in the sky,” one person wrote.
Many walkers aimed their efforts toward the prevention of suicide among soldiers. “Never let a soldier accept defeat,” one sign read.
Participants wore stickers in support of the loved ones they have lost or are worried about. They also wrote their names in a remembrance book to be read at the closing ceremony.
“I’ve had my own personal struggle and family struggle. A big problem is not loving yourself. We get caught up in the moment and forget that tomorrow exists,” Alex Husson, a second-year psychology student, said. “Tomorrow is a new chance and new hope. Some days are hard, but there’s always tomorrow. I wrote that on the Wall of Hope, and I’ve been trying to live by that.”
“An event like this helps destigmatize suicide. It helps show there are other people who have gone through this and survived,” Tobby Bragdon, a graduate student in student development in higher education, said.
The first mile of the walk was dedicated to honoring those who have lost their lives to suicide or have lost a loved one. The last half was committed to bring suicide “out of the darkness.”
Active Minds, a student organization dedicated to destigmatizing mental health issues, was there to lead the walk. They also participate in other suicide prevention programs on campus, including Send Silence Packing, which took place last March.
“Our goal is to change the conversation about mental health,” Justine Bouthot, a psychology and sociology student and president of Active Minds, said. “We are trying to make college campus’ more adaptable and be able to have the conversations that are necessary.”
Coordinators said that about 1,000 people participated in the walk, with nearly 350 registering the day of the event.
Shaw opened the welcome ceremony saying this year’s walk drew the largest crowd since its inception and by highlighting that while the walk is incredibly supportive, it is also difficult for those remembering lost loved ones.
UMaine graduate and former senator Emily Cain spoke at the welcome ceremony feeling hope from the amount of people in the crowd and from knowing the community is stepping up together.
“We are turning it around. As a state we must speak out against these issues by showing that this community is here for you. We must never give up,” Cain said. “Looking out at the hundreds of you, I can feel only hope. I can feel only comfort.”
An honor bead ceremony highlighted the variety of colored necklaces participants were wearing as a part of the walk — some wore beads in memory of their children, their spouses, nieces or nephews or parents. Others were there to act as advocates for friends who have been touched by suicide.
Two members from Active Minds led the large crowd of people past Fogler Library toward College Avenue and into downtown Orono. The walk ended at the Steam Plant parking lot where the closing ceremony was held.
Renaissance, UMaine’s all women a cappella group, performed two songs before the walk began.
“If you cannot run, walk. If you cannot walk, crawl,” Shaw said on the behalf of a struggling participant.
The main theme throughout the walk was echoed from signs participants held to songs sung to some of the first words spoken to the crowd, emphasizing no matter what life may bring, we are not alone.