Walk aims to educate, raise funds for suicide prevention

Out of the Darkness raises money for suicide awareness from The State Press on Vimeo.

Doves flew over Hayden Lawn at the Tempe campus Saturday morning as almost 250 people prepared for a three-mile walk to honor those whose lives have been lost to suicide.

The second ASU Out of the Darkness walk was part of a national initiative that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention organizes on different campuses to educate and raise funds for scientific research that could prevent suicide.

Steve Schiro, chair of the Arizona Chapter of the AFSP, said suicide is the second leading cause of death on university campuses and the walks bring light to the seriousness of the issue.

“People get to share similar experiences,” he said. “It’s just a day for healing and friendship.”

Schiro and his wife, Theo, became advocates after losing their son, who was a senior at ASU, two years ago.

"That got us involved in trying to answer some questions, but also in trying to do some good," Schiro said. "We want to help prevent that happening to others."

Before the walk, attendees got to visit different informational booths and listen to various speakers. Jill McMahon of the Empact Suicide Prevention Center stood by her booth, showing people quilts made up of photos of those who have been lost to suicide.

The quilts were made by volunteers who have been affected by suicide as a way to heal. McMahon, who takes the quilts to conferences around the country, said she works mostly with friends and family members who are left behind after someone dies by suicide.

“I want those that have lost somebody to suicide to feel supported and feel that they’re not alone and look around Hayden Lawn and see that there are other people who understand their grief,” she said. “Grief in suicide is very complicated. There’s a lot of guilt and shame that is associated with it.”

Arizona is one of the top 10 states for deaths by suicide, she said, and events like these bring the issue to the forefront.

Health sciences junior Danica Shillingburg, the president of the Well Devil Council at the Downtown campus, told the audience that the walks were the first step toward preventing suicide.

She said it is easy to go through life without paying enough attention to others, but recognizing behaviors that are out of place makes it possible to potentially prevent suicide.

“When the community is mindful and aware, it is unstoppable,” Schillingburg said.

Dave Covington of Magellan Health Services, a specialty healthcare manager that aims to make health care affordable, was the event's keynote speaker. He said many clinical professionals are not adequately trained to prevent suicide.

A survey of 20,000 professionals showed that only 50 percent of them feel they are equipped, trained and have support, he said.

“We also found that one in four of those individuals reports that someone under their care has died by suicide, and about half of that group said it’s happened more than once,” he said. “We need to prepare them (and) we need to equip them.”

Suicide is a core issue that must be addressed immediately, and the solution is to train professionals to have suicide intervention skills, Covington said.

On March 23, more than 200 people including family, friends, classmates and teacher to participate in the second annual Out of the Darkness Community Walks founded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  Before the 3-mile walk balloons and white doves were released. (Photo by Ana Ramirez) On March 23, more than 200 people including family, friends, classmates and teacher to participate in the second annual Out of the Darkness Community Walks founded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Before the 3-mile walk balloons and white doves were released. (Photo by Ana Ramirez)

The crowd began the walk around campus after the speaking portion ended that would take them around 30 minutes to complete.

Larry Honig, a Tempe psychologist, said he attended the event because he is dedicated to preventing suicide and alleviating the suffering of his patients.

Honig said he agreed with Covington's message because it is important for professional to have enough training.

“There’s not mandated training, and I think there needs to be,” he said.

The greatest thing the community can take from the event, he said, is to pay attention to others, support them and take them seriously when they say they are going through something difficult because mental health is as important as physical health and seeking help should not be embarrassing.

Marketing sophomore Maggie Siple, who attended the event last year, said she joined AFSP in her hometown in Colorado after she lost a friend to suicide during high school. Siple said she plans to become part of the Arizona chapter of the foundation and help plan the walks or other events.

“When I came to ASU, I still wanted to be involved in it,” she said. “I’ve been doing it since I’ve been here.”

The most beneficial aspect of the walk is that people whose lives have been affected by suicide know they are supported and that others have gone through similar experiences, Siple said.

People who are in crisis can talk to someone at ASU Counseling Services or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

 

Reach the reporter at dpbaltaz@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @dpalomabp

 


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