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Saturday, May 25, 2024
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The faces of hope: UB’s first on-campus suicide prevention walk

UB community members speak on destigmatizing mental health

<p>Over 500 people registered for the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk and Roll.&nbsp;</p>

Over 500 people registered for the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk and Roll. 

Contet warning: This article contains sensitive information about suicide. If you are in crisis, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or dialing 988.

The first annual Out of the Darkness Campus Walk and Roll was hosted on Saturday, April 13. Approximately 500 students and community members registered for the walk, which raised over $30,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Attendees spoke to The Spectrum about the stories, people and purpose they brought to the walk.

Editor’s note: These conversations have been edited for length and clarity.


Deb Kocieniewski – Mother who lost her son, Andrew, to suicide 

Q: Why are you here today? 

“I am here today because my son, Andrew, died by suicide in December of 2023.” 

Q: What does having a walk like this mean for you personally?

“For me, I feel like I’m not alone…. But also, I want to be here to support everyone who might be struggling, or know of someone who might be struggling. It builds a nice sense of community and togetherness and help.”

Q: What can we do on an individual level to talk with people who are struggling with these issues?

“For me, the most important thing to help others is just to continue reaching out just to be kind, to ask people how they’re doing. To reach out in any little way to anyone can make a huge difference to try and get people to open up about how they’re feeling or to just give them hope that someone’s there for them.”

Q: How do we begin to destigmatize issues around mental health? 

“I think the best way is to talk about it. To make it a topic of conversation, not hide your experiences or how you feel and make it become more commonplace, so that it’s just part of the normal conversations in everyday lives.”

Q: Is there anything you’d like to share with the UB community today? 

“I would ask everyone to continue to stay strong. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out for any help if you need it. There’s always someone there to listen, and someone to help you. It could be someone you’d least expect, but there’s always love from others. Just continue to fight and continue to fight for those that are in your life.”

Q: Is there anything you’d like people to know about your son? 

“My son, Andrew, was amazing. He was a teacher’s aide at Randolph Academy dealing with behavioral problem children. He gave his life and love to everyone. And he was a great brother. He did struggle with mental health, and he knew it and did seek help along the way. And we just miss him dearly.” 

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Ian Denshaw – Freshman architecture major

Q: Why are you here today? 

“Because suicide awareness is very important. It has impacted countless people’s lives. My own life included, the lives of friends and family. And in my hopeful future profession, mental health degradation is incredibly prevalent, people work insane hours in unrewarding projects, to deal with people whose lives are impacted by our work. Not often and not always in the most positive ways. So it’s a real drain on yourself, and you begin to wonder, ‘Hey, what am I doing with my life?’”

Q: I see you’re wearing a button that says you’re walking for someone. Would you mind speaking about that? 

“Sure, I can’t give too many details about it because… I have not talked to her family about it. But she was a very close friend who ended her own life about five years back.”

Q: Why is it important to talk about people who are suffering and why is a walk like this important in terms of visibility for both you and the UB community? 

“So, just in terms of actually being able to give names to people, give actual stories, show real impacts on real lives, show how people’s lives are impacted by somebody’s absence. An absence which is caused by something which they don’t talk about. Thats a main issue with suicide, you know, people don’t talk about it, and then it builds up and then one day, it’s just too late. They’re gone.”

Q: How do we begin to destigmatize these issues? 

“Talk to people, if you’re able to talk to people then do it, especially if you’re a man, especially if you’re somebody who’s comfortable with saying, ‘Hey, I’m not comfortable right now.’ Expressing that and just being able to say, ‘Hey, I can’t do this’ is something that more people and more men should be able to say: ‘Hey this is something I can’t do.’ You know, it’s very strange that I can’t talk about it. It’s something that there’s not a lot of language behind to talk about. A lot of people are like, ‘To be a man is to be tough,’ but to be a person is to have weakness.”

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Carissa Uschold-Klepfer – Social Worker, Assistant Director for Outreach, Eating Disorder Treatment Team Coordinator and Suicide Prevention Coordinator

Q: What does this walk mean for you on a personal level, and what does it mean for the UB community to have it here on campus? 

“So for me personally, serving as a mental health clinician and the assistant director for outreach for many years, I’ve had clients that I’ve worked with struggle with mental health and suicide concerns. I’ve had family members struggle, and just three months ago I lost a dear friend to suicide. So this particular walk is really important to me. I think it's important to the campus community because certainly UB students do struggle, and we’ve lost a lot of students to suicide so we want to raise awareness to provide prevention support, let them know open help is available. Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst college students so its really important for us to raise awareness.”

Q: Why did you join this cause? Why did you want to bring it to UB? 

“Since 2007, the Out of the Darkness community walk has been in the Buffalo area. Our center, UB Counseling, as well as our whole UB wellness team, has participated in the community walk, which is in the fall, every year since 2007. We’ve been active walk volunteers, we’ve been on the committee, and we’ve had people that have been chairing the walk. I chaired the community walk for five years, and one thing we struggled with is getting students down to Delaware Park or Canalside for that community walk — so we thought, there weren’t any area walks yet in Buffalo and we wanted to bring a campus walk to UB.”

Q: How do you feel about the support that this walk has gotten as well as the turnout so far? 

“We’ve had a huge amount of support, and as we have heard from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this has been a monumental first walk. Our original goal was $10,000, we raised it to 15, raised it to 20, to 25, landing at 30, and now we are at over $30,000. We have over 500 people pre-registered and we’ve had a lot of people come for walk up registration as well. So great turnout despite the weather.

Q: How do we begin to destigmatize mental health issues? 

“I think talking about it. So the new initiative with American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is to talk away the dark and really, we want to start talking about mental health. We have physical health, we also have mental health, each and every one of us. So I think it’s important to talk about any concerns that we may be having and that can help destigmatize, just by having the conversation.” 

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Skylar McCrary – Freshman criminology major

Q: Why are you here today? Why did you join this cause?

“I’m here today mainly to support my club, Circle K, but I joined this cause because suicide prevention is actually really important to me. A lot of my friends have actually tried to attempt suicide. So I’ve gotten a lot of late night calls about people ending it.”

Q: How do we support people who are struggling with mental health? 

“I would say mainly, give them somebody to talk to and give them a resource to reach out to. And actually, there’s this initiative allowing young students to get days off to recuperate for their own mental health, but not all states and schools reinforce it… so to support mental health, maybe actually just give people a break.” 

Q: What do you think a walk like this means for the UB community? 

“It’s actually really good because now people feel supported, and they don’t feel so lonely.” 

Q: How do we start to destigmatize mental health issues? 

I would stop talking about it as a joke and actually only talk about it for real. Don’t just advertise it, like ‘Oh, it’s popular.’ Instead say, ‘Hey, let’s talk about this’ or ‘I’m going through this.’”

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