‘Out of the Darkness’ brings awareness to prevention
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15 to 34-year-olds. On Saturday, Apr. 1, the School of Nursing hosted the university’s first American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness Campus Walk to bring awareness on suicide and mental health on campus.
The walk was followed by an acoustic and electric performance by Impaired Faculties, a band composed of university professors. Also following this event was the university’s Faculty Field Day.
This walk was initiated by nursing professor Mitzie Meyers’ own involvement in the AFSP’s walks and events and has had immense planning since she pitched the idea in June of 2016. From its proposal, the planning team has grown to include several faculty members and student organizations.
“We’ve been planning this walk for almost a year now,” said Meyers. “We have built a planning team of volunteers which include Dr. Peter Emerson. We have the REC center director Dollie Hebert-Crouch, Assistant Dean of the School of Nursing Dr. Ralph Wood, employee wellness committee members, the Peace and Purpose Initiative and several student organizations campus-wide.”
The walk brought in an estimated $4,000 in proceeds that allow AFSP to invest in creating educational programs, research, advocating for public policy and supporting survivors of suicide loss. AFSP has set a goal to reduce suicide rates by 20 percent before 2025.
“I feel it was very successful, much more than I could have imagined,” said Meyers. “Our goal was to raise $3,000 and we were hoping to have about 100 participants. So, we had 255 participants, and we raised $3,655.Plus we made some additional money from the merchandise that we sold, so I think overall, it was close to $4,000 which is extraordinary for the first year.”
The National Alliance of Mental Illness on Campus group participated in this walk as their founding had close ties to the cause.
“Our NAMI on Campus Southeastern group was actually formed in response to several Southeastern students committing suicide in 2014, so this is an issue particularly close to us,” said senior social work major and NAMI on Campus president Chad Cashio. “We host a Mental Health Fair the week before finals, and we always include a suicide awareness wall.”
Senior psychology major and former NAMI president Stephanie Ellzey attended the walk with her family and shared how the smallest amount of concern for people experiencing depression can make a difference.
“One of the things we do in NAMI is try to do a lot of education to bring awareness and make it easier to talk about it,” said Ellzey. “It is one of those things that if no one talks about it and no one knows, then you may have a friend who is suffering with suicidal thoughts and a week later they are gone. So, maybe you could’ve seen the signs and maybe you could’ve helped out, even if its just a ‘Hey, can I do something for you?’ and that can make all the difference.”
Meyers believes this walk filled a need for an outlet for students as suicide and mental health issues carry a stigma in today’s society.
“I wanted to do this to shed light on an issue that sometimes still carries a stigma and that people maybe don’t want to talk about,” said Meyers. “Many feel isolated because they feel depressed or they know someone who has taken their life, so I wanted to just bring some awareness to mental health.”
The community has lost many individuals to suicide, many being university students.
“I know our campus has had incidents of suicide and I also have heard of some from the community,” said Meyers. “Dr. Emerson from the counseling center has shared with me that Tangipahoa Parish has one of the highest attempt rates for suicide in our state. We also have statistics from the Center for Disease Control, and the 2017 statistics state that suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-30 year olds. The college age population is in that age group. It has been that way for a long time. It is not a new statistic. I felt like I wanted to not only try to erase the stigma but bring awareness to the importance of mental health and fill a real need within our student population as far as health statistics.”
Meyers’ involvement stemmed from her own experience with loss as she had lost a close family member to suicide.
“I have had a personal loss,” said Meyers. “I lost my sister to suicide at 24 and she was a college student. So for me, I think being surrounded by other people who are passionate about the cause, for people who have either had a loss of a loved one or they suffer from depression or mental illness themselves, are very powerful and very healing.”
Statistics state that for every person who dies as a result of suicide, it affects 12 other people. The state of Louisiana lost 722 people to suicide last year. That leaves over 8,500 people affected by suicide in the state, and Meyers hopes that this walk can bring some light to this issue.
“My hope in doing this walk for our campus and our community is to bring awareness and to help boost people who have suffered in one way or another to get some healing and to come together with other people who care about the cause,” said Meyers.
Students can become isolated and depressed due to the stress of adulthood and education.
“When it comes to getting help, a lot of people either choose not to or don’t know how to or they just don’t have the resources,” said Meyers. “There are so many things that students are juggling and struggling with in addition to pursuing their education, and I think one of the reasons that we see a high rate is people begin to feel hopeless and isolated or are in a great deal of emotional pain and they don’t know how to fix it.”
Individuals struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a secure and confidential line that is available 24 hours everyday, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or through their online chat at chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The university also provides a free, confidential counseling center for students located in the union. Donations to the Out of the Darkness walk are still being accepted until June 30.
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