Walk supports suicide prevention

A group of volunteers stand by a table of bead necklaces, each signifying a different way in which suicide has affected people’s lives.

ELIZABETH KELSEY, News Editor

On Saturday, April 24, UNI students and community members participated in an Out of the Darkness Walk supporting suicide awareness and mental health resources.

The UNI event, which took place from 12-3:30 p.m., was one of many such walks held across the nation on Saturday in support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). These annual events are a central part of AFSP’s mission to reduce the national suicide rate by 20% by 2025. The money raised goes to help the organization invest in research, create educational programs that advocate for public policy and support survivors of suicide loss, according to the organization’s website. 

Sabrina Menke, a second-year graduate student in UNI’s school counseling program, served as the coordinator of the UNI walk. She said the event was designed to start a conversation and showcase the resources available on the UNI campus and in the Cedar Valley.

“It’s all about just kind of raising awareness about suicide and suicide prevention, especially on college  campuses, because it is a very important topic, especially after this past year,” she said.

Free will donations were collected from participants, with those who raised $100 earning a free T-shirt.

The wind and cool temperatures meant that many of the volunteers wore hats or light jackets, but the sun regularly emerged from behind the clouds to offer some warmth to the walkers as they traversed the approximately one-mile route around campus. The path led them past McCollum Science Hall, around Maucker Union and over to Schindler Education Center, concluding near Rod Library.

Along the way, volunteers staffed tables where participants could learn about local mental health resources and share their stories or reasons for walking.

At the table near McCollum, first-year graduate student in school counseling Laura Schmitt stood with three other volunteers behind a table full of colorful bead necklaces. Each color represented the different ways in which suicide might have affect the lives of walkers, such as white for the loss of a child, gold for the loss of a parent and green for a personal struggle or attempt.

“Seeing the people pick out the different colors is really meaningful (because) you just kind of get an insight to their lives and what they’ve been through,” Schmitt said. “To see that connection is really important.”

She herself wore both purple beads, which symbolized the loss of a relative or friend, and blue beads, which symbolized general support for suicide prevention.

Schmitt said she had chosen to participate in the event as part of her overall commitment to mental health and support for friends, family and colleagues.

“Even if I don’t have a personal experience, I know it means everything to me and my friends and my classmates that we’re there to support each other’s mental health,” she said. “

Two livestreamed speakers, Kevin Atwood and Haley DeGreve, were scheduled to address participants at 2 p.m. Atwood and DeGreve represented the Quad-Cities based nonprofit Foster’s Voice, named for Atwood’s son who took his own life at the age of 19 in July 2017.

Menke said she hoped that participants left with the knowledge that help is always available and that they are not alone.

“It’s just to help destigmatize asking for help,” she said. “Everybody struggles for different reasons, and everybody needs help, but not everybody knows how to ask for help.”