Plattsburgh State’s Alpha Epsilon Phi chapter and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or AFSP, have partnered to bring the Out of the Darkness Walk to campus to raise awareness for mental health issues and suicide prevention Sunday, April 24.
“Of students surveyed in the Spring 2014 National College Health Assessment, 33 percent reported feeling so depressed within the past 12 months that it was difficult to function, almost 55 percent reported feeling overwhelming anxiety while 87 percent reported feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Almost 9 percent seriously considered suicide over the past year,” according to an article published by Healthline.com titled, “Mental Health Problems for College Students Increasing.”
The Out of the Darkness Walk first came to PSUC’s campus in 2010 when PSUC organizational leadership communications alumna Maggie Edwards partnered with AFSP and her sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi, to help address and break the stigmas of mental-health issues.
Edwards, a survivor of suicide loss, lost her brother in 1999. She said she began participating in similar walks in the Buffalo area in 2005, but as a freshman at PSUC in 2009, she was unable to travel to Buffalo for the Out of the Darkness walk. She decided to bring the walk to Plattsburgh.
“My brother has always been and always will be my inspiration,” Edwards said.
She said the purpose of the walk is to “break the silence” of mental illness and to provide support for those who have experienced mental illness or lost a loved one to suicide.
“I saw change on the Plattsburgh campus,” Edwards said of the first Out of the Darkness walk.
She said social media has also played a large role in providing resources and connections for those affected by mental-health issues and suicide loss.
PSUC senior Latin American Studies major and member of Alpha Epsilon Phi Kaitlyn Kessler is currently responsible for organizing the annual walk.
She said she is invested in the cause as her father is a veteran in the U.S. military. She said although her father is healthy, the number of veteran suicides is “a number too high for comfort.”
Roughly 22 veterans were committing suicide per day between 1999 and 2010, according to a study released in 2013 by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
Kessler said military members who serve deserve to be helped.
She said the walk provides a “safe space” for those participating and for those affected by mental-health issues.
Aside from planning the walk, Kessler is also establishing the PSUC Coalition for Suicide Prevention organization, pending Student Association approval. The coalition will help bring awareness to the campus with walks, forums and other workshops to help effectively prevent suicide.
Both Edwards and Kessler said their sorority sisters have been supportive of their efforts each year.
AFSP Area Director of the capital region and south central New York Laura Marx has also been helping to organize the walk on the PSUC campus for three years by fundraising, raising awareness and providing programs to communities.
Marx and AFSP also help provide programs for family members affected by suicide loss and advocacy programs on both state and federal levels.
Edwards said one of the best ways to prevent suicide is to know the warning signs and to know what to do with those signs.
“Mental health doesn’t go away,” she said.
Edwards said the PSUC Student Health and Counseling Center once contacted her when she was a student to tell her about another student who had contemplated suicide. Edwards said this student changed his or her mind after participating in one of Edwards’ workshops on campus.
“Even if I saved one life in my four years (at PSUC), my job was done,” she said.
Registration will begin Sunday at 10 a.m. and the walk will start at 11 a.m. at PSUC Amite Plaza, following Rugar Street to Sanborn Avenue. Participants will then walk down Draper Street, connecting to Broad Street then to Rugar Street, ending at Amite Plaza.
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