The Mississippi chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) will host the third annual “Out of the Darkness” walk in the Grove this Sunday. All proceeds benefit the AFSP.
The walk serves as a way for members of the Oxford community to come together and shed light on suicide prevention, to honor loved ones lost to suicide, to find a community with others who have experienced the same thing and to support friends and family. Participants can still register for the walk in-person when check-in begins at 1 p.m. Sunday until the walk starts at 2 p.m. Registration is free and open to the public.
Maddy Gumbko, chair of Ole Miss’ Out of the Darkness walk, first got involved during the spring semester of her freshman year after she lost a friend to suicide. She said she realized the widespread effect suicide can have on people everywhere and didn’t want others to feel as alone as she once did.
“I wanted to bring awareness to an issue that is never talked about but is so prevalent across the world,” Gumbko said. “Especially within the college population.”
The walk not only serves as a fundraiser for AFSP but also features special amenities such as honor beads, a memory wall and a balloon launch to write a message to a lost loved one. Organizers of the walk are also fundraising online and accepting donations until Dec. 31.
Gumbko said the honor beads are the factor that sets the Out of Darkness walk apart from other fundraisers. Honor beads are distributed at the start of the walk and give participants the option to pick a color bead based on how they associate with suicide prevention or mental health. Blue means a person supports the cause, green means he or she has a personal struggle against mental health and purple means the participant has lost a loved one to suicide.
“I love the beads because you can see what others have been through without actually talking about it,” Gumbko said. “It’s one of those things where you are like ‘Oh, wow, I didn’t realize they were struggling with the same thing,’ and then it makes you feel not as alone.”
Caroline Hannon said she will wear purple honor beads to honor Rivers McGraw, a friend she lost to suicide in November 2016.
“It’s so comforting, coming together with 400 members of your community, most of them being strangers, to raise awareness about something people are afraid to talk about,” Hannon said. “Mental illness is real and is a very lonely disease. This walk shows members of the community that they are not alone.”
In Mississippi, suicide is the 13th leading cause of death. One person dies by suicide every 23 hours, on average, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Members of the Ole Miss community have certainly noticed the trend; the University Police Department has responded to 39 reports of attempted suicide since the beginning of 2013.
Truett Primos and Rivers McGraw were two former students who died by suicide within the last two years.
Betsy Primos and Lauren McGraw, the mothers of the two victims, have been very open in sharing their sons’ stories to ensure that college students understand suicide is not the way out.
“I’m going to fight with everything I have to try and reach any of his friends, hoping they can reach more friends, telling them that suicide is not an option ever, even if it means they get in trouble by some mistake or stupid decision they make,” Primos told The Daily Mississippian in April.
Rivers McGraw’s mother, Lauren McGraw, also believes educating college students will decrease the likelihood of suicide.
“He shot himself after receiving his second DUI in 2016,” McGraw told The Daily Mississippian earlier this year. “He got scared and didn’t think there was a way out, which is why it is so important to raise awareness at events like this. We need to talk. We need kids to be more open so they can know there is a way out.”
Prizes are offered to the top fundraisers, and if one raises $150 or more they receive a t-shirt from AFSP. The past two Out of the Darkness walks raised over $35,000 for AFSP and had over 500 walkers total.
The UM Counseling Center is located on the third floor of Lester Hall and accepts walk-in appointments from noon to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. Students can call (662) 915-3784 to schedule an appointment. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, offers a confidential service to help people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.