Out of the Darkness Walk raises suicide awareness on campus

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Gallery by Lauren Anikis

by Yelin Jung

More than 300 students and community members participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk held by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to raise suicide awareness and funds on April 9 on McKeldin Mall.

CJ Pendleton, a senior kinesiology major, decided to bring this event to campus because of his own personal struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts in the past.

“I wanted to [help] those who are like me and are going through depression and suicidal tendencies,” Pendleton said.

This annual event is the largest suicide prevention walk among college campuses in the country,  senior finance major and walk coordinator Jared Kovach said.

“The first goal is to raise awareness on campus to the issue of suicide hopefully to create that loving and supporting environment,” he said. “The second goal is to raise the money for suicidal prevention.”

Gina Lerner, a senior at University of Maryland, passes out beads to walkers. The beads signify why people are walking, each representing a different loss or difficulty one might be going through. (Photo by Lauren Anikis)

Three speakers opened the Out of the Darkness Walk. One of them, Wanda Gryszkiewicz— who started joining the walk after the suicide of her 21-year-old son, Mitchell Gryszkewicz — said about importance of making the open environment to seek help.

“People struggle and don’t ask for help, but please figure out those struggling and please ask someone for help,” she said. “Your mom, your best friend, whoever.”

Knowing about warning signs of suicide and getting rid of stigma toward mental health are significant to make a warm place, Kovach said. The supporting environment leads people to share their struggles and to feel they are not alone, he said.

“Our hope is that awareness will make people feel or let people feel comfortable with sharing their story with loved ones and then receive [unconditional] support from them,” Kovach said.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young adults aged 15 to 24, and the first leading cause of death for 10 to 14 years old, AFSP’s Area Director Kat Olbrich said. In 2015, the suicide rate of adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 is 12.5 per 100,000 individuals, according to AFSP.

“College can be a very lonely place,” senior marketing and psychology major Jacob Katinsky said. “[It’s the] first time a lot of people are away from home.”

This year, this university raised $26,757 of its $30,000 goal by 293 donors, but AFSP will continue to accept donations until June 30. AFSP uses the funds to “invest in new research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy, and support survivors of suicide loss,” according to its website.

“50 percent of the funds raised today stay here at Maryland and 50 percent go to our national office,” Olbrich said. “83 cents of every dollar donated goes to suicidal prevention.”

Participants walked around the campus for about 20 minutes. After walking, refreshments were served, and there was an a capella performance by Pandemonium.

“It was nice to walk with friends,” junior journalism major Ilana Bernstein said. “I think it’s really important for people to talk about [suicide] and be aware of it.”

Walkers pass the Administration building. (Photo by Lauren Anikis)

Next year, the Out of the Darkness Walk aims to continue to raise money and diversify programs, Kovach said.

 The event was co-sponsored by Maryland Active Minds, Lambda Chi, the Help Center, this university’s Counseling Center, Alpha Chi Omega and HEALTH Works.

“In the news, we hear a lot of bad things going on in the world, and this is a great way of just showing a little light of that there is good in the world,” Pendleton said. “Hopefully we can inspire other schools to do it as well.”

 

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