Eastern Michigan University partnered with the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Friday, Sept. 29, at 4p.m. to raise awareness for suicide prevention. The ‘Out of the Darkness Walk’ is part of an AFSP initiative to gather communities together to fight suicide.
About 150 students and Ypsilanti citizens arrived at Bob’s Lake House beyond EMU’s student center for the walk. After registering, many participants picked up beaded necklaces, the colors of which representing a certain struggle they had in suicide or mental health.
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, representing the 12th District of Michigan in the House of Representatives, arrived and participated in the walk. She also spoke at the opening ceremony of the event, thanking EMU’s community for inviting her and referencing her own life in support of the cause.
“My family is like every other family in this country,” Dingell said, “an we’ve struggled with mental health issues and it doesn’t get any easier to talk about it even though I’ve been talking about it right now.”
Dingell spoke on the death of her own younger sister, who took her own life with a drug overdose.
“My mother is just starting to adjust with me talking more about it,” she said, “and my sister, she says: if we can keep any family from going through what we went though, then we have a moral responsibility to do that.”
Both student body president Miles Payne and vice president Larry Borum were at the event and introduced it through the opening ceremony.
“The fact that you are all out here today – it may seem like a little moment, a little step…but just being here people will see pictures, they’ll hear about it, and they’re know even if they’re not here they’re being supported,” Payne said, addressing the crowd at the opening ceremony, “and hopefully enough of these and enough of us are out here are showing that support and breaking that stigma.”
A display of 72 backpacks was set up at the Amphitheatre beside the Lake House, each one with a laminated description of a college student who took their own life. Each backpack represented 15 students who died each year as a result of suicide, making the entire display equate to 1080 students. Participants walked along the rows to read each description.
The student organization Active Minds, whose president Desmine Robinson spoke during the ceremony, set up the display. Their group is dedicated to changing the perception of mental health on college campuses.
“If you lose someone you love – the people they loved, they become your loved ones,” Desmine told the crowd during the ceremony, “support them, love them the way that they were loved – that’s how we break the stigma, that’s how we know we’re not alone.”
The event was the final use of a three-year federal grant EMU received from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2014. The grant was awarded to allow the university to continue its efforts toward suicide prevention with a program EMU called Stigma and Fear End Now (SAFE Now.)
The walk itself moved around the EMU’s center pond and student center. Tanya McCune, walk chairperson and a graduate student at the university, spoke on the event’s purpose.
“When you get a group together like this, you start to see that everyone has been touched by mental illness or suicide in some way in there lives,” she said, “it’s just a good way to remove the stigma by seeing that you’re not alone in it.”
The stigma is a common focus of both the AFSP and the other organizations participating in the walk, referring to the negative connotations given to mental illness. These connotations often result in those suffering with mental illness to not seek help.
Dr. Lisa Lauterbach, director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), told the ECHO about ‘reducing the stigma’.
“We [the public] put labels on people like they’re nuts, they’re crazy, other terms that are pejoratives – that’s stigmatizing people rather then reaching out and offering support.” Said Lauterbach.
She also spoke of the best methods to offer help to those who need it.
“I think one of the things we can all do is talk about getting help in a way that makes it seem like it’s an okay thing to do,” she said. “Not like ‘there’s something wrong with you – you need to get help’ but instead saying something that sounds positive and normal and not a strange thing to do. “
The most frequent advice given amongst even coordinators is to talk to people when you see them struggling. Steve Windum, the area director of the AFSP, notes the importance of it.
“Just listen – a lot of people that are struggling just want to be understood, they just want to be heard, you have to understand that there’s no quick fix to this.” He said, “you can’t just give someone good advice and fix them and cure them of this issue – this is an illness that is chronic and they have to manage the rest of their life, but they can manage it effectively and still be themselves.”
Students Logan Molmar, a senior double major in communications and media studies and journalism, and Miranda Moulton, a junior communications major, both participated in the walk in light of the death of their friend last year to suicide.
Molmar noted how CAPS is a good resource for anyone seeking help with a mental illness.
“Even if you don’t feel like you need it [help], it’s always good to talk to someone,” she said. “I personally use CAPS and it’s really beneficial to just talk to someone and have someone there to listen.”
“And don’t be afraid to ask questions,” said Moulton, “one of the reasons there may not be a lot of awareness is because people don’t want to talk about it.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or thoughts of suicide, the ASFP recommends calling 1-800-273-TALK or texting ‘talk’ to 741741.