Students and those affected by suicide gather at the Hayden Lawn for an Out of Darkness walk hosted by AFSP on Sunday March 23. (Photo by Mario Mendez)
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, according to a report by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
AFSP hosted its third annual Out of the Darkness Walk to raise suicide prevention awareness Sunday on the Tempe campus.
Steve Schiro, chair of the Arizona chapter of the AFSP, said the walk started 12 years ago and AFSP recently began doing campus walks.
“The idea is to raise awareness of suicide in college students,” he said.
Schiro had a son who attended ASU who took his own life just a month before graduation. That is what inspired him to become part of AFSP. He said he is happy about how much the campus walk has grown since it first began.
“(Although) it has grown, I am also happy that it has maintained a sense of intimacy,” he said. “What happens with a lot of events like these is that they grow so much people begin to lose sight of what they are actually about.”
All participants met and registered at Hayden Lawn. The event began with performances such as dancing and poetry readings. Advocates from suicide prevention organizations also spoke at the event.
Student organizations participating in the walk separated into teams and even made T-shirts.
AFSP also had a table where those affected by suicide could write notes on different colored papers to their lost loved ones and post it on a tree.
For example, white represented a child, red represented a spouse or partner and gold represented a parent.
Friends and family share embraces at a walk and memorial hosted by AFSP on Sunday March 23. (Photo by Mario Mendez)
Kelsey Schimdt, a field advocate for AFSP, said the tree was supposed to help people identify with their losses.
“I lost my father to suicide, so when I see people wear gold, I feel that connection,” she said. “It’s sad to see the tree fill up, but it’s nice to know that I am not alone.”
The Out of the Darkness Walk not only educates about suicide prevention but also strives to help people who have lost their loved ones cope and identify with others who have shared the same experience.
Out of the Darkness Walk participant Hope Ewasak lost her grandson, Sean Sparks, last December. She said this was the first walk in which she has participated.
“It was a big shock for us,” she said. “He was so kind and generous. My daughter, his mother, still can’t talk about it."
Laurie, Sparks's mother, was one of the top fundraisers for the walk. She raised $572 for AFSP, making $272 more than her initial goal.
According to the AFSP, suicideclaims more than 38,000 lives each year in the U.S. alone, with someone taking his or her own life every 13.7 minutes.
Psychology graduate student Pauline Venieris, the director of student advocacy for the Graduate and Professional Student Association, said there are a lot of people in pain.
“What we need to realize is that people who commit suicide go through extreme states that we all know,” she said. “The first step is to raise awareness and acknowledge that this is a real issue."
Venieris also said it is important to destigmatize suicide.
“Don’t classify them as ‘those crazy people,’” she said. “An antidote is to reach out and create community so those people know that they aren’t alone.”
Before teams dispersed for the walk, doves were released over Hayden Lawn, moving the crowd to tears.
For mental health emergencies contact EMPACT ASU’s emergency counseling line at 480-921-1006.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @kelciegrega