The University hosted its third annual Out of the Darkness walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Sunday. This year, 60 people participated in the walk, which began at the Amphitheatre, and over $3,000 was raised to support the cause.
The walk is part of a larger campaign at high schools and colleges across the country to raise awareness and funds for suicide prevention efforts.
Sophie Divino, vice president of Active Minds, a Contracted Independent Organization that works to promote mental wellness, and first-year College student, was responsible for planning and organizing the walk.
“I think awareness is the biggest goal for this event,” Divino said. “We just want people to know there’s help out there.”
As fundraising was also a goal of the walk, Divino said organizations on-Grounds such as Pancakes for Parkinson’s, a pancake breakfast fundraiser held annually on Grounds for Parkinson’s disease research, and Greek life organizations, namely Kappa Delta, Tri Delta and Pi Beta Phi, provided support in the form of volunteering and fundraising.
Local Charlottesville businesses like Torchy’s Tacos helped fund the event and donated money. Divino said national organizations such as Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization fighting against gun violence in America, were also large contributors to the event.
The University chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness also played a supportive role in this event by providing mental health resources for community members. Justin Wheelock, president of NAMI and fourth-year College student, said NAMI contributed to the walk by handing out informational flyers about suicide prevention and crisis intervention and educating participants about mental health resources on Grounds.
“Suicide prevention is something that has to be proactive rather than reactive,” Wheelock said. “A lot of times we see that after something happens or after there has been a suicide on-Grounds or after somebody has had a suicide attempt that’s when people recognize that it's real.”
Every year, approximately 1,100 college students commit suicide, making it the second most common cause of death among college students. Wheelock said it is important to contextualize suicide among college students by looking at environmental factors. Stressors such as housing, food insecurities, relationships with family and friends and money problems are contributing factors to mental anguish.
Wheelock along with Lara Demir, intersectionality and outreach co-chair of NAMI and fourth-year College student, said that the University offers many resources for mental health, through administrative programs such as Counseling and Psychological Services and CIO-funded programs like Next Steps Fund, which reduces the cost of therapy for students. However, Demir said accessing or simply knowing about such resources is a gap organizations such as Active Minds and NAMI are working to bridge.
“The thing that should be more emphasized is that resources need to be individualized and needs to be kind of identity-based care and creating resources that specifically account for marginalized identities,” Demir said. “You have to specifically target where there are gaps in your system if you want to be able to improve your resources.”
Demir said mental health organizations on-Grounds are working towards proactive measures rather than focusing only on crisis resources. NAMI specifically hosts community building activities, panel events and LGBTQ+ centric mental health information sessions.
Outreach events such as the Out of the Darkness Walk aim to shed light on mental health resources on-Grounds. Providing individuals with numerous tools to support their unique situations and ensuring they are not alone are steps organizations on Grounds are taking towards suicide prevention and mental health advocacy, Demir said.
The Student Health and Wellness Center will also be hosting many upcoming events for mental health, such as the Mental Wellness for International Students, a workshop designed to help students transitioning to a new culture. Divino said Active Minds plans to host the Out of the Darkness walk again next year and an even larger turnout is expected.