This past Sunday, SJU held its first-ever Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention. Sponsored by the Dean’s Leadership Program, the walk drew over 300 students and raised over $3,000 for the SJU and national chapters of Active Minds, a mental health awareness and advocacy organization. I was one of the 300 present for the walk on Sunday night, and for a first-time event, it was really well done.
The walk began with student leaders from the Dean’s Leadership Program introducing its importance, followed by an associate dean of the business school, Vana Zervanos, as well as the director of CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services), Dr. Greg Nicholls, PhD. The idea was that though suicide and depression are subjects generally hidden away in darkness, we can bring this conversation out of the darkness and into the light, to be a support to people on our campus dealing with it.
We walked from Sweeney Field, past the Science Center, and through the Sourin parking lot. We marched along Cardinal Ave, past the Chapel, around the library, and through the Barbelin courtyard, finally ending at Mandeville Hall (with Chipotle burritos and pizza afterwards). Along our way were colorful illuminations lighting our path, our glowsticks shining in the dark, chalked messages of “never give up” adorning our sidewalks. We walked with the names of those we’d loved and lost tied in ribbons around our glowsticks, or we walked simply to show support for people who had loved and lost, or people currently struggling.
We walked with our campus illuminated so that student to student, we can show each other that we are not alone.
Suicide is really important to discuss, and to be open about. There still exists a stigma regarding mental health; this is an issue that is often kept in the shadows, but is something that needs to be brought to light, so that people struggling on campus might not feel as alone.
Last spring, we lost two students at SJU to suicide. We can’t afford to lose any other members of our campus community. We can’t afford to lose anyone, period. We are all too incredibly special for that to happen, and in the muckiness of life it can be all too easy for us to be blinded by that fact, blinded by all that weighs us down.
Whether you know someone, or you know someone who knows someone, all of our lives have been touched, somehow, by suicide.
Though the conversation surrounding mental health on college campuses, and on SJU’s own campus, is increasing lately, depression and suicide is something that is oftentimes kept in the darkness. Depression and suicide are naturally sensitive topics, and understandably so. We don’t talk about it because it is overwhelming, and we make it out to be shameful if we struggle; it is scary, it is isolating.
In college, we are put into this giant pressure-cooker of schoolwork and clubs and internships and resumes and friendships– and it is overwhelming, to say the least. It can get to you, deep into your very core, in the whirlwind of everyday life.
It is okay to not be okay. It is okay to reach out, to be vulnerable, to break down the walls you’ve put up for so long. There are so many people on this campus, myself included, who have ready and willing ears to listen– people like CAPS counselors, RAs, and faculty and staff members. Add to that list professors, coaches, mentors– friends and roommates, too. There is an entire network of Hawks to turn to for support.
We may not be able to reduce the amount of pain someone else feels, but we sure can make someone else feel less alone in carrying it. We can be friends, we can be listeners, we can be someone to notice if something seems off. Sometimes, the most powerful thing is to simply be there and be present to the people around us. We never know the story of the person standing right next to us.
But we can walk together, glowing, as we did Sunday night, to remind people that it is okay to share a story, to reach out, to lean on this community for all it’s worth.
So many people, when talking about what they love at SJU, mention “the community.” We pride ourselves on being a tight-knit campus– supportive, encouraging, loving. And it’s true, we are.
But suicide is preventable. We can tell our friends we love them, that we’re there for them. We can pull them aside to chat if we think something is up. We can pull together every single person on this campus and create a circle of love that echoes, “Never give up. Never, never,” reverberating throughout Hawk Hill and beyond.
I have struggled with my own mental health. I have felt alone on this campus before. Not to the point of suicide or close to it, no, but no one would probably suspect this about me unless I were to tell them. And I’m sure there are dozens of students on this campus who feel the exact same way. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to carry our burdens invisible and alone.
We can bring these topics– depression, suicide, mental health awareness in general– out of the darkness that they’ve been living in for so long. And in this light, we can spread support to members of our community who have been touched by the tragedy of suicide, or have struggled with mental illness.
You are loved. You are important. No matter what you are facing, you are not alone.
There are a number of excellent resources on our campus to use if you or a friend is in a situation where you feel like you need someone else to talk to. As mentioned at the Out of the Darkness walk, all of these resources have a human voice behind these phone numbers, willing to help you:
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
Merion Gardens A504, 610-660-1090
LaFarge 54 (walk-in office, M-F 11am-12:30pm)
Counselor on Call After-Hours Crisis Support- call Public Safety (610-660-1111)
Student Outreach & Support
Campion 212, 610-660-1149
Residence Life Staff (including RAs)
Suicide Prevention Hotline
SJU Public Safety, 24/7
Together, we can create light from the darkness.