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Mental health: Bringing light to the darkness

by Margaret Stewart
Tue, Apr 16th 2019 10:00 pm

On Saturday, April 13, Prevention and Outreach Services hosted it’s sixth annual Out of the Darkness Walk on the campus of The College at Brockport. Sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the purpose of the walk is to give people the courage to open up about their own struggles or loss and the platform to change our culture’s approach to mental health, as stated on its site.

Gloria Schou and Vanessa Taylor of Prevention and Outreach Services are the co-chairs of this year’s Out of the Darkness Walk. For Schou, this is her first time jumping from volunteer to co-chairing and coordinating the event.

“I have been volunteering for the event for about three years,” Schou said. “Last year my supervisor asked me if I wanted to co-chair the event and I said yes. It’s a cause that is really close to my heart.”

The event reaches the hearts of many in the Brockport community, as teams came in matching shirts bearing the name and walking in memory of someone they loved who died by suicide. 

“Essentially we invite the community to come in, we invite the campus to come in and do a walk around campus,” Shou said. 

While the walk lasts about an hour, there are many other activities for participants to get involved in, from making bracelets to writing down reasons someone may want to live and hanging them on the “Tree of Life.” Perhaps the most potent moment of the event was hearing about how suicide has impacted the lives of people in attendance. 

“We also have a speaker who shares their story of someone they have lost to kind of build that awareness and it is really just a day of coming together as a community, as a campus and doing something to help,” Shou said.

This year’s speaker was Paul Ziegler, whose son died by suicide.

“I have done four Monroe county walks and this is my second campus walk,” Ziegler said. “The other was at Roberts Wesleyan where I teach.”

AFSP sponsors walks all over the country both for the community as well as college campuses. Brockport liaison Missy Stofi worked alongside Schou to ensure this year’s walk would be a success.

“I have been with the organization since December 2017, so this is my second season of campus walks, and [I] also experienced a full season of community walks both in Western and Central New York, so I have kind of lost count how many walks [I have been in],” Stofi said. “I was here last year as well and had a wonderful experience and I’m glad to be here again.”

Both Stofi and Ziegler have advocated for society becoming more vocal in regards to mental health.

“We are really at a sort of a tipping point where not only the statistics and numbers are showing us that we need to pay attention, the stories are screaming to us that they need the attention,” Stofi said. “I think young adults especially don’t just have a desire but are demanding to talk about issues around mental health and suicide specifically. Young adults are really advocating for themselves and each other.” 

She went on to say that young adults are looking for the education to help and the awareness to the access to make a change.   

“I think they are helping to teach some of the older generation who avoided the topic for many years.”

Ziegler agreed saying that the young generation should “be commended” for bringing these life-threatening topics to light.

“I think [the younger] generation is saying ‘we are tired of this,’” Ziegler said. “‘We are tired of seeing our friends take their lives, we are tired of being ashamed of battling mental health issues when everybody around us is battling those same battles.’”

The campus offers a plethora of resources, many of them located in the office for Prevention and Outreach Services and The Center for Select Respect.

For more information, those interested can head to afsp.org/brockport where they can continue to learn about suicide and mental health awareness and donate after the event has ended.

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