Over 1,500 people participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk at Canalside last Saturday. Organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the event aims to raise awareness about suicide prevention, honor those who have passed and fundraise for community educational programs.
The walk is the final event in UB’s Suicide Prevention Week programming. UB Counseling’s Student Wellness team has participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk since it began in 2006, according to Carissa Uschold-Klepfer, an assistant director and eating disorder treatment team coordinator at UB Counseling Services. Team UB Walkin’ raised over $5,000 this year, contributing to AFSP’s total of $240,008.19. A total of 1,897 registered participants and 233 teams walked.
Tents and a stage lined Canalside for the event, including an area for community resources such as Planned Parenthood, Bikers Against Child Abuse and Housing Opportunities Made Equal. The walk was kicked off by an opening ceremony, where community members spoke about their experiences with mental health and suicide.
“We want this to be a time where the community feels connected,” Western New York board member and Buffalo Walk Chair Lauren Calabrese said. “There’s a lot going on here, but we walk in memory of the people we lost to suicide.”
The 1.89 mile walk from Canalside to Erie Basin Marina Observation Deck was packed with teams of both students and families. Many wore honor beads from the “Hope & Healing” tent; walkers could pick up different colored strings of beads to represent their connection to the cause, such as green for a personal struggle or attempt, orange for a loss of a sibling, or rainbow to honor the LGBTQ community.
Jamie Englerth, a third-year law student and President of the Student Wellness Society (SWS), a mental health group for law students, also joined the walk with members of her organization.
“We have a lot of vicarious trauma,” she said. “There’s so much trauma and hard things that we can’t talk about because of confidentiality.”
She went on to describe SWS as a safe space and an “open communication to students that we’re all going through this together.”
Outside of SWS, Englerth has been going to the Out of the Darkness Walk since 2016.
“I would say the most overwhelming feeling you get is the opening ceremonies,” she said. “It’s completely emotionally overwhelming. It makes you really value the people that you have here because maybe they have thought about suicide. Maybe they have tried to and realize how blessed you are to have them still here… it’s something that has to be talked about more so we can stop. We can live in a world without suicide.”
Other UB Suicide Prevention Week events included Wellness Activity Day — where students received resources and support while planting, decorating rocks and coloring mandalas — and QPR Suicide Prevention Training, which teaches people to “Question, Persuade and Refer” those who show warning signs of suicide. More sessions will be available virtually on Oct. 10, Nov. 15 and Dec. 7 through UB Counseling Services.
Jasmin Yeung is an assistant news/features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org