By Kelly Zheng
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) organized their fifth annual Out of the Darkness Walk on April 22 with support from University of Maryland greek life organizations and other campus groups.
The Out of the Darkness walk is an AFSP event that benefits the foundation. However, campus organizations volunteer to host the events. This year, for the third year in a row, Lambda Chi Alpha hosted the walk, hoping to acknowledge and unite a community that has been affected by mental health issues, said philanthropy chairs Josh McGhee and Alex Whalen.
Whalen, a sophomore government and politics major, said one of their members, CJ Pendleton, an alumni who suffered from depression, introduced them to the walk. Even after Pendleton graduated, they continued participating in and hosting walks.
“As a chapter, we believe mental health leading to suicide is a topic that is not talked about enough,” said McGhee, a junior government and politics major who struggles with the issue himself. “We have been really passionate about shedding light on a cause that needs more attention.”
Event organizers said they were still counting donations and accepting them until June 30. Three hundred twenty-eight walkers have collected over $35,000 so far, according to Kat Olbrich, the Maryland area director for AFSP. Olbrich said the organization uses the donations to fund research, create education programs, advocate for public policy and support survivors of suicide loss.
“We need feet on the ground to raise awareness and educate to bring suicide rates down,” Olbrich said. “We’re going to change that this is a cause not spoken about. Our logo is ‘Be the Voice;’ so it’s okay to not to be okay, and people should talk about mental health.”
Sigma Nu, Alpha Gamma Rho, Alpha Chi Omega, the Help Center, WMUC and other university organizations co-sponsored of the event.
Like Lambda Chi Alpha, Sigma Nu has been affected by suicide personally. Last semester, member James DeLeonardis took his own life. Philanthropy chair Isaak Lindenbaum said it was a surprise to the fraternity, as no one knew he was struggling with a mental illness.
Lindenbaum added that DeLeonardis’ death made the chapter reflect on what they should do about people who struggle with mental illness moving forward. They wanted to participate in honor of him, he said.
“The walk allows everyone to be involved and it empowers people who struggle with issues we don’t see everyday,” said Lindenbaum, a junior history major. “It’s meant to reach out and show them they’re not alone. We’re trying to help and mitigate what they’re going through.”
In addition to donating money, Sigma Nu and a few other greek organizations designed and sold T-shirts, for which the profit was donated to AFSP, Lindenbaum said. On the back, the shirts featured a pair of shoes, which symbolized the walk. They also read “In honor of James DeLeonardis” along with the sponsors’ names, he said.
The group effort between sponsoring organizations showed how many people are affected by suicide and how prevalent it is to society, said Laura Stock, a senior psychology major and Alpha Chi Omega’s Out of the Darkness Walk chair. It allowed people to know that others struggle too, and there are resources, she said.
Some walkers also honor beads of nine different colors to represent their personal connection to suicide and the walk, Olbrich said.
The Omega Epsilon Graduate Chapter of Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority, Inc. volunteered and tabled the beads. Andrea Bagwell, the community service coordinator of the chapter, said they came out to represent minorities who may seem “weak” because they have struggled, along with giving back to the campus.
“People walk on a daily basis not telling anyone, so the smallest gesture…of acknowledging they’re there could help them get to the next day…,” said Bagwell, who is also an alumna of this university. “It could’ve been that night they took their lives, but you saved them because you showed some love.”