Walk raises suicide prevention awareness


Students and community members participate in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s “Out of the Darkness” Walk on Sunday, April 30, 2017.

Kent community members and students filled Risman Plaza Sunday afternoon to raise awareness for suicide prevention.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) hosted the Out of the Darkness Walk where 50 participants took part in fundraising for research, advocacy and education regarding suicide prevention.

“Suicide is the second-highest rate of death for 19-34 year olds,” said David Peterson, a member of the Northern Ohio Chapter for AFSP. “Just starting the conversation about … suicide with mental health (is important). No one wants to talk about it, so starting that conversation is huge.”

Suicide was also personal to Peterson; he opened the walk by delivering a speech about how suicide has affected his life, which was then followed up with speeches by students.

“The main goal is to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,” graduate biology student Bree Richardson said. “They use money to go to Washington D.C. to try and get more funding for mental health, and they need money for research grants to help with suicide prevention and a lot of other things.”

Richardson — who served as the student organizer and contact for the event — lost her mother to suicide.

Junior speech pathology majors Stephanie Hilliard and Emily Newman found out about the walk through the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association, which partnered with autism connections, and both said they hoped the walk raised awareness.

“I’m doing the march for the student organizations (and) so people know that there are tons of organizations even if they don’t say they are directly related to suicide awareness,” Newman said. “There are people looking out for you, and there are numbers to call. People in my family have attempted suicide and it’s really important to me that people know that there is help for them.”

Hilliard echoed the sentiment that there are numerous organizations for students who need help to get involved with.

“I think it’s an important cause because I don’t think a lot of people think about it daily, so if we can do something some people have a little more awareness of what’s going on,” Hilliard said. “There is something that can be done about (suicide) and there are organizations to help prevent it.”

Junior speech pathology major Martina Drugovich has personally dealt with suicide in her family.

“My cousin passed away from suicide, and it’s a really important issue for me and my family,” Drugovich said. “You don’t really know who it’s going to affect, and how many people it does affect, so I think it’s good to get awareness out there.”

Drugovich understands suicide is a tough topic for people to talk about, but believes discussing it is something that is worthwhile.

“I hope (the walk) helps other families so (suicide) doesn’t happen. It’s really hard to think about (suicide), but it’s even worse to lose someone,” Drugovich said.

The fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon participated in the event, as numerous members showed up for the walk. They started thinking of ideas for an original philanthropy event in early March, and eventually decided on the AFSP.

“We were brainstorming (philanthropy ideas) and a lot of the guys wanted to do something that involved mental illness because a lot of greek organizations (advocate for) mental health, so we thought it was pretty original,” said Tommy Watral, who serves on the executive board of Sigma Phi Epsilon and also serves as the chaplain. “So we were kind of browsing around, and we found the AFSP and we read up about them and found out they already do campus walks.”

Watral, a junior nursing major, and the rest of Sigma Phi Epsilon then reached out to the AFSP to work on planning an event with the AFSP, only to find out the organization had already planned a walk on campus.

“We got into contact with (AFSP) and checked to see if they needed any help. For (the walk) today, all we did was really participate and share the flyer on social media,” Watral said. “We’re going to continue to talk to them over the summer to try to plan something next semester.”

For Watral, the walk was something that opened his eyes to how suicide affects people.

“The three speakers who spoke at the beginning were really heartfelt, and just looking around I saw pins with family members or friends they had lost to suicide. It was very sobering to be there and see that,” Watral said. “Personally, I don’t know anyone in my life who has attempted suicide, so it doesn’t really get my heartstrings on a personal level, but it was definitely emotional to be there.”

Greek Life and mental health

Many organizations within Kent State’s Panhellenic Council don’t have philanthropies in the realm of mental health, but Dasha Harris, the fraternity and sorority life coordinator, said the program is trying to turn that around.

“Usually we’ll just refer students to the Office of Student Conduct or mediation services,” Harris said.

Keri Richmond, a senior public relations student and member of Delta Gamma, said she is not aware of any Panhellenic organization at Kent State whose philanthropy focuses on mental health issues.

“I think this is because a lot of our organizations were founded in the 1800s or early 1900s, and I don’t think mental health was talked about very much back then,” Richmond said.

Senior journalism major and Delta Zeta member LiAnna Schwerer said, while her specific chapter raises awareness for hearing and speech for various reasons, one of the issues they highlight is the stigma and misunderstanding people have of the deaf and mute communities.

“This can be very harmful to their mental health,” Schwerer said. “So we try to help this problem as much as we can.”

Schwerer also said the sorority’s Gamma Kappa chapter hosts member events around finals to make sure members know the resources available on campus, how to get help or how to reach out to a friend if they think they might need help.

Richmond said talking about mental health is an important conversation because of the tight-knit relationships in Greek organizations, which are great places to begin this dialogue.

“I think we will start to see a lot more fraternities and sororities getting involved in this conversation,” Richmond said. “We have to continue to work to break the stigma.”

Harris said she is open to the Panhellenic Council focusing more on mental health prevention and treatment in the future.

“It is an important issue, and we should definitely be continuing to have this conversation,” said Harris. “Our students’ health is very important to us.”

Editor’s note: This story is part of a student media project entitled “The Silent Struggle.” See the whole project here

Henry Palattella is an administration reporter, contact him at [email protected]Abigail Winternitz is the College of Public Health reporter, contact her at [email protected]Kelly Powell is the managing editor of The Burr Magazine, contact her at [email protected]