Sunday’s second annual Out of the Darkness Walk shed a light on suicide awareness and prevention by raising funds for research, education and support programs for those affected by suicide. The program included several speakers, a blessing from a local minister, a balloon release and a mile-long walk around campus.
More than 600 people registered for this year’s walk, and $24,711 was raised through donations, more than doubling last year’s numbers. Online fundraising is open through December.
Junior Maddy Gumbko, chairman for the walk, helped plan both this year’s and last year’s walk due to her personal connection with suicide.
“I lost a very close friend to suicide, and there are so many other people out there who have, too,” Gumbko said. “It’s an illness. These people are in a dark tunnel, but it’s 100 percent preventable.”
In Mississippi, suicide is the second leading cause of death for the ages 10-24 and is the 12th leading cause of death overall. On average, one person dies by suicide approximately every 20 hours in the state. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has worked to pass laws regarding suicide prevention in the state.
“This walk addresses the elephant in the room and lets people know, especially on college campuses, that they’re not alone and there are resources out there to help them,” Gumbko said.
AFSP board member Pam Smith’s son committed suicide two-and-a-half-years ago. In her role, Smith promotes awareness and educates others on suicide prevention by helping plan walks, events and various other programs with all the funds AFSP raises.
“Once in a while, I’ll look up to my son, and I thank him for giving me a second job,” Smith said.
In addition to the programs AFSP offers to high schools and universities, it has firearm awareness programs which provide free gun locks. AFSP also holds various events, including Strikeout for Suicide, Singing to Save a Life and its annual Survival Day, planned for next month at Saltillo City Hall.
AFSP also has the ASIST (Applied Suicide Invention Skills Training) program through which people can become trained caregivers and help prevent someone from committing suicide.
“I get calls constantly from parents if they think their child is suicidal and from people themselves who are struggling,” Smith said. “If I think it’s very serious and there could be self harm, I call an ambulance.”
Kathryn Forbes, senior president and founder of the Ole Miss Active Minds chapter, paired up with AFSP and helped promote this walk to help spread mental health awareness.
“Mental health and suicide awareness is really close to my heart and something that should be talked about,” Forbes said. “This walk promotes this talking and keeps these tough conversations happening.”
Active Minds is planning other events to help spread mental health and suicide awareness throughout the year. It also has a Mental Health week planned for April.
Associated Student Body President Dion Kevin was walking at the event to remember his fraternity brother who took his own life and said he believes there should be more events like this walk in the future.
“It’s important for the campus communities to seek adequate answers to this problem,” Kevin said. “It really falls on the younger generation, and it’s important to learn about suicide prevention.”
The group’s next planned Out of the Darkness walk is next Saturday in Tupelo.