Over 200 people gathered at Uptown park Sunday, Oct. 1 for Miami’s second annual Out of the Darkness Walk, the signature suicide awareness campaign and fundraising event of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
“The purpose of the walk and the reminder for you today as we put one foot ahead of the other is to remember, consistent with the Code of Love and Honor…that every one of us is the Miami community, that every one of us can make a difference,” said dean of students Mike Curme as he addressed the crowd before the walk.
Walkers included people of all ages, some young enough to be pushed in strollers. Some were Miami students, and others members of the Oxford community. Many sported matching t-shirts with their team name. Most of the teams were named after lost children, spouses, parents, siblings and friends.
Miami president Gregory Crawford and university ambassador Renate Crawford were also among the participants. The walk marked the end of Suicide Prevention Week 2017 at Miami, which began Monday, Sept. 25.
According to the CDC, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college-age students. AFSP’s goal is to reduce the annual suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025. According to the AFSP website, 44,193 Americans commit suicide each year.
Many of those who participated in the 2-mile walk through Uptown and campus see beyond the statistics. For them, suicide isn’t an impersonal number – it’s the face of someone they’ve lost, or the weight of their own struggle.
In Dec. 2013, Miami student Andrew Dalton Salsman took his own life after battling with OCD and depression. Today, a memorial oak tree for Salsman stands in front of Kreger Hall.
“It is a heartbreak like no other,” said Lynn Dalton, Salsman’s mother, as she talked about her loss before the crowd on Sunday.
Dalton said she made a promise to her son and herself to do great things in his memory.
Dalton was the one who approached Curme about holding an AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk at Miami.
Curme connected her with Kip Alishio and Jennifer Young at Student Counseling Services and Carly Traynor, who, at the time, was president of Active Minds, a student organization dedicated to erasing the stigma surrounding mental health. Together, they helped establish the first Miami Out of the Darkness Walk in front of Millett Hall last year.
This year’s walk had raised $7,480 by the morning of the event. Online, there were 19 pre-registered teams and 213 pre-registered participants, but there were also several onsite registrations.
Additionally, Student Counseling Service, HAWKS Peer Health Educators and Active Minds had representatives at the park with information and resources.
Among the walkers was Nicholas Saxton. Saxton is a member of the Chi Psi fraternity, one of the teams registered for the fundraiser. As a junior social work major, he wants to work in the mental health field.
“I have a few friends that have really struggled with this kind of issue. It means a lot to me to help spread awareness because I don’t think it’s really talked about enough and it’s heavily stigmatized,” said Saxton. “It’s so much more than people realize.”
Amy Vorhees, 34, and other members of her family walked as “Team Jef With One F” in remembrance of her brother, who died in September 2016. For Vorhees, the biggest problem surrounding mental health is the stigma against speaking out.
“A lot of people are afraid to admit they’re depressed or feeling whatever they’re feeling,” Vorhees said. “You have to open up and let somebody know.”
The impact of an individual life was exemplified by the hundreds of people who walked to bring the issue of suicide out of the darkness. For Saxton, he hopes people who are struggling realize they are valued and that their lives have meaning.
“They impact people’s lives more than they know,” Saxton said.