Students walk ‘Out of the Darkness’ in solidarity for survivors and victims of suicide

Jody Nelsen leads a crowd of supporters during the Out of the Darkness awareness event April 6, 2017. The walk is held annually to raise awareness about suicide prevention and mental health. (Photo by Nicole Fowler)

Letrice Fowler

Jody Nelsen leads a crowd of supporters during the Out of the Darkness awareness event April 6, 2017. The walk is held annually to raise awareness about suicide prevention and mental health. (Photo by Nicole Fowler)

Sharlene Phou

Despite the rain on Thursday evening, a crowd of people came to show their support for increasing awareness about suicide by walking the two-mile round trip from the The WELL to the residence halls.

According to the coordinator of the event, Jennifer Burton, almost 700 people registered for the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk to raise awareness about suicide — the cause of death for more than 1,100 college students each year.

“Suicide is kind of like a taboo subject; people don’t want to talk about suicide,” Burton said. “The meaning behind the walk is taking it out of the darkness. It’s OK to talk about this topic — we’re all here for each other, to support each other.”

A keynote address was given by Jody Nelsen, wife of Sacramento State president Robert Nelsen, who spoke about the loss of their son Seth to suicide in 2001.

She talked about the grief that she and her husband went through and how they were able to cope with the loss of their only child. Some of the things that helped them were talking about her son with his friends, the support they received from their own friends and counseling.

“I’m sharing my story today hoping those of you who have lost a loved one to suicide will recognize in my story, some of your own feelings and know that you’re not alone and that there is a future for you,” Nelsen said to the crowd. “A very different future changed forever, but a future nonetheless.”

Jelena Avdalovic, a master’s social work student, came to walk in honor of her uncle, Bucky and her friend’s sister, Emerald, who both died by suicide.

In her hands she held a poster with pictures of her two loved ones outlined with markers and sporting a green ribbon — which represents mental health awareness.

“I’m very passionate about helping people with mental illness get the proper treatment that they need and to stop the stigma of mental illness (by) spreading the awareness and knowledge that everyone deserves a place on this planet,” Avdalovic said. “I was actually super taken back by the fact that there was just so many people out there, despite the rain. Towards the end, we were like, soaked — it started pouring.”

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Registration for the walk was free, and after students checked in at a booth, they were offered to pick from nine assorted colored beads to wear.

Each color represented the wearer’s connection to the suicide prevention cause. White beads symbolized the loss of a child, red meant the loss of spouse and green indicated a personal struggle or suicide attempt.

Booths from different on and off-campus organizations were lined up along the walkway leading to The WELL for students to stop at and learn more about suicide.

Some organizations offered counseling services, information on the causes of mental illnesses and ways to approach those who are thinking of suicide.

Students from the nursing program had a booth set up and were equipped with blood pressure monitors and poster boards that showed helpful tips on how to reduce stress — one of the factors that can lead to suicide.

“Out of the Darkness” was the result of a collaborative effort by Student Health and Counseling Services, Active Minds and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Donations raised at the event will go towards AFSP’s research, education and prevention programs.