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Suicide prevention brought to campus

by Mark Cuminale - Copy Editor
Tue, Apr 17th 2018 08:45 pm

It was another cold and gloomy day in Brockport on Saturday, April 14, but inside the Seymour Student Union, the sounds of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston gleefully welcomed incoming attendees of the fifth annual “Out of the Darkness” walk.

Students and community members came out in droves to support the suicide awareness and prevention fundraiser that was brought to the college by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and Brockport’s Prevention and Outreach Services.

“Out of the Darkness walks are a way for AFSP to not only raise the needed funds to make our mission possible, but a way to bring the community together around a difficult but important topic, to honor the lives of those who have been touched by suicide, and to spread hope,” said area director for the Western New York chapter of AFSP Missy Stolfi. “We need to emphasize that [suicide] is not just a health issue, it’s a health crisis. It needs to get that same attention that we hear about for other health conditions and diseases. Suicide needs to have that same voice, attention and resources.”

The AFSP’s mission comes down to saving lives. To achieve their goal, the organization focuses its resources on four areas: research, education, advocacy and support.

“The funds that are raised go to the life saving research that helps us figure out what are those underlying complex causes of suicide, and to figure out what are the best intervention and prevention strategies,” Stolfi said. “Our advocacy and public policy is geared toward influencing our decision makers — at the state and federal level — who have the power of the pen, and the power of the purse strings. They can help make legislation and budgets for things that will impact the fight to prevent suicide.”

Stolfi believes suicide prevention is a particularly poignant issue for the college-age demographic. 

“For young people, suicide is the number two cause of death in the United States,” Stolfi said. “Among the college age group, it’s crucial that we are not only having these conversations, but that people see that they are not alone in their struggle. The walk is great because it brings everyone physically together in community. That way, people can see that they are not alone, that there is help out there and that they can help one another find that support.”

To show solidarity, volunteers and attendees wore bright colored shirts — some displaying messages of hope, while others honored those who had been lost due to suicide. The event carried a similar tone. With elaborate gift baskets being raffled off, pizza and snacks, “Out of the Darkness” almost felt like a party. It wasn’t until keynote speaker Gina Del Vecchio spoke that the event moved toward a more somber tone.

Del Vecchio, whose son Nicholas committed suicide in 2017 at the age of 29, warned the crowd of a mental healthcare system that lacked the necessary means to help her son.

“Together, Nick and I, along with family, sought out treatment, which was not always an easy task with our current mental health system,” said Del Vecchio. “He desperately needed and wanted help. He did this by reaching out to some of his close friends, doctors and professionals in the mental health system; a system that continually failed my son in many ways.”

Now, Del Vecchio has become an advocate for suicide prevention, and works toward influencing change in the mental healthcare system.

“I have voiced my concerns, and will continue to voice loudly the lack of care given to my son. I will continue to address this issue to see that the system is improved,” said Del Vecchio.

Vicky Spurr of Spurr Auto Group also spoke at the event. She became an advocate for suicide prevention after her daughter attempted suicide nearly 10 years ago. Spurr contributes to the cause philanthropically, and also helps teach methods of prevention to the community.

“We’re here to change the face of suicide. If you know the signs … there are things that you can do,” Spurr said. “Be willing to listen, and offer empathy. Making a connection can make all the difference.”

As the speakers wrapped up, attendees gathered for a mile-long walk around the Brockport Campus. For those attending the event, the walk brought community members together in awareness, and offered a ray of hope in a cloud of darkness.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides confidential support 24/7. Counselors can be reached toll free at 1-800-273-8255.

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