Students at Olivet College uphold a strong commitment to service learning. Opportunities to Be More and Do Good range from day-long, local projects on annual Service Days to international disaster relief efforts, weekend service trips and many campus events. This spring, the Marching Comets and students from the psychology program have teamed up to host an Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk on campus on Saturday, April 14, supported by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
The AFSP is a national leader in the fight against suicide by funding research, creating educational programs, advocating for public policy, and supporting survivors of suicide loss. The organization collaborates with high schools and colleges across the nation to host campus walks, bringing together a community focused on suicide prevention thousands-strong. The AFSP dedicates 80 cents of every dollar raised to funding research and educational programs.
Change the Culture
The campus walks target a key age group of individuals, as suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for those between the ages of 15 and 34. The AFSP aims to create an understanding of suicide cause, expanding its mission to include mental health awareness – stressing the best way to prevent suicide is through early detection, diagnosis and treatment of depression and other mood disorders.
“Mental health and suicide prevention are very important topics for us to discuss,” explained John Moore, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology. “Although these topics can be difficult to talk about for many reasons, it is very important that we let people know that there is hope, and that support and resources are available to help them with whatever their specific issues might be.”
Out of the Darkness Walk Goals and Schedule
Two main goals have been set for OC’s Out of the Darkness Walk. First, to help erase the stigma of mental illness and suicide by offering a safe and open forum for discussion, while also having information and resources available. Second, to raise a minimum of $5,000, which will be used to bring an anonymous Interactive Screening Program to campus so that students are able to find the help they may need. In addition, the program will indicate what support services the campus needs to better serve the student population.
Students from both the Marching Comets and psychology program have taken the charge to begin fundraising activities, and more than $4,600 has already been raised. The event will be held in the College Square with registration opening at 8 a.m. The walk will begin at 9 a.m. with an opening ceremony, featuring speakers sharing on the topics of mental health awareness and suicide prevention. The walk will include optional three mile and one and a half mile loops. The event will culminate on campus, and include music, educational resources and other activities.
Together – Preventing Suicide and Saving Lives
Students have not hesitated to get in on the action, and many Comets have already formed otherwise unlikely bonds during the planning process. Freshman Makennah Rousseau, a member of the Marching Comets and psychology major who has hopes to work with children with autism in her career, said, “I hope that people are able to make genuine connections with one another that they may not have had before, and I would love to see a fantastic turnout of students and staff showing love and support for each other.”
Fellow freshman and member of the Marching Comets Katie Murphy, who is studying music and psychology to prepare for a career in music therapy, is most looking forward to the dialogue the walk will begin on campus. She is helping coordinate entertainment for the event and serves on the lead planning committee. “I am eager to see people from Olivet College and the Olivet community gather and do something for the greater good,” Katie added.
In addition to honoring a great cause on campus, students are also developing leadership skills and embracing OC President Steven M. Corey’s, Ph.D., words to, “become comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Sophomore Abigale Smith, Out of the Darkness Walk chairperson and team captain for the Marching Comets, was inspired to bring mental health awareness and suicide prevention to campus after being personally affected by the issues. She credits director of bands Jeremy Duby, who took on the role of adviser for the event, for supporting the cause and helping turn her idea into an outstanding campus event.
“My goal is to expand the conversation on mental illness and suicide prevention on campus,” Abigale explained. “These are topics that are uncomfortable to talk about, but Dr. Corey always tells students to embrace being uncomfortable, and I’ve really taken that to heart. The only way to break the stigma on mental illness is to talk about it, and I’m perfectly fine with being uncomfortable if it means I have the opportunity to save someone’s life.”
Professor Duby emphasized that he is extremely proud of his students for taking on the tasks of planning the walk and increasing awareness. While it might seem like an unusual match for the Marching Comets and psychology program to team up, at Olivet College, relationships go beyond interests, cultures, genders and all other factors to create one, strong OC Nation. Diversity is a value at the heart of the mission, and OC continues to pride itself on who it includes, not who it excludes.
“It has been very uplifting to experience the openness the campus has had toward this cause,” Professor Duby said. “Dr. Moore, Elisa Geiss, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, and the entire psychology program were the first to jump on board, and have been incredibly helpful and supportive as we plan this event, and subsequent work, to remove the stigma from these topics. Many details are required to run such a large event, and it is great to see the campus rally to help.”
Help is Always Available
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, there is hope. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255.