Out of the Darkness Walk brings community together.
Various members of the St. Joe’s community braced the cold to participate in the third annual Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk on Nov. 12. to raise awareness for suicide prevention.
Hosted by the Dean’s Leadership Program (DLP), members of the community came together as one to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues. All the proceeds were donated to Active Minds, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising mental health awareness among college students.
The event was created by Mariah McHugh ’16, a former DLP member. Two students tragically took their own lives during the 2014-15 school year, and McHugh, along with other members of the program, wanted to create an event that would raise awareness for suicide prevention, along with mental health issues.
“This event serves as something for any individual that’s interested in attending to come, whether they come alone or bring others, that they’re not alone,” said Jessica DeStefano ’18, current co-director of the walk.
DeStefano further explained the overall importance of this event.
“That’s a representation of what this campus stands for, we’re a community who loves and cares for one another and to see 500 people standing as a whole it’s literally breathtaking,” DeStefano said.
Kim Uno ’20, one of many student participants, resonated with the idea of not feeling alone and emphasized there is always assistance available to students.
“Mental health is very internal and sometimes it feels like you’re alone because you think that no one feels the same,” Uno said. “For people that don’t think they can confide in someone, they must know that there is always someone that is willing to help and listen.”
Mitchell Mcllhenny ’18, another co-director of the walk, delivered a message to speak up whenever feelings of depression, anxiety or stress develop.
“If you are having trouble with this type of issue, reach out and talk to someone whoever it is that you’re comfortable with,” Mcllhenny said. “Don’t suffer in silence because that’s where people make these decisions when they’re only looking at it through their own lens and not grasping the whole big picture.”
Several members of the community spoke before the walk, including University President Mark C. Reed, Ed. D.; Dean of the Haub School of Business, Joseph DiAngelo, Ed.D; DLP president Emer Ryle ’18; Active Minds head Marybeth Ayella, Ph.D; and director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Greg Nicholls, Ph.D.
According to Nicholls, a mental health survey conducted by CAPS a year and a half ago revealed that 90 percent of students said they would not think less of someone who received mental health counseling. However, when asked if they felt most people would feel less about someone who received this kind of counseling, 60 percent said most people do.
“That’s where the stigma is,” Nicholls said. “Only 10 percent of our students would look down on someone, and I think that’s a misperception that there is this negative stigma, it exists, but not as much as people think and certainly reaching out for help is a sign of wisdom and strength.”
According to Nicholls, St. Joe’s is making a significant effort this year to raise awareness for mental health issues and the need to understand the symptoms of these issues as well.
“We have a suicide prevention team here at St. Joe’s that maybe most don’t know about made up of faculty, staff, administrators and student members as well., Nicholls said. “We’re dedicated to preventing suicide and one of the key elements is training members in how to recognize warning signs of depression and suicide, how to respond, and help them get the help that they need.”
Kathryn Svoboda ’20 had a friend who took their own life recently. Svoboda expressed feelings of reassurance and comfort with having CAPS on campus.
“After finding out yet another one of my high school classmates committed suicide earlier this semester, this walk really resonated with me,” Svoboda said. “It reminded me that at SJU, you will always have a support system there for you whenever you need it. Hearing all that CAPS provides for us here, I was once again reassured knowing that I will always have somewhere to turn to here.”