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On March 30, nearly 300 people gathered on Olivet’s campus for the second annual Out of the Darkness Walk. The walk, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), raised awareness of suicide prevention and other mental health issues.

The event raised over $11,000 and donations continue to flow in after the walk. Donations are being accepted until June 30. Olivet will use the funds to support mental health programs on campus.

Donations from last year’s event helped fund the Talk Saves Lives event earlier this semester, an educational presentation about suicide prevention, presented by the AFSP. At the event, attendees learned about the scope of the issue and ways they can help prevent suicide. Events like this help spark hope in the Olivet community, and with the funds from this year’s walk, future events will continue to inspire conversation about mental health and suicide prevention.

Spreading Hope

At the walk, participants wore colored honor beads to show their support for suicide prevention, commemorate lost loved ones and share their stories of personal struggles with suicide ideation or suicide attempts. Each color held a different meaning.

“I had the opportunity to start conversations with others about what their beads meant to them,” sophomore Tatum Oxford said. “For example, I wore green beads because I personally have survived a suicide attempt. I was able to connect with others who are survivors or have struggled with suicidal ideation.”

To both Tatum and Abby, the walk had a widespread reach that touched the Olivet community as a whole. Tatum is grateful to be a part of such a powerful movement.

“I feel honored to have been a part of Olivet College’s second Out of the Darkness Walk,” Tatum said. “It is always a bittersweet feeling, knowing that it’s great so many people want to spread awareness, but it also means more people have been affected by suicide. I think the walk influenced the Olivet community by opening up conversations that aren’t always easy to have.”

Abby also noticed the impact the walk made on the community.

“Mental health and suicide prevention are not unique to Olivet College, and I think the surrounding area wants to be involved because these topics touch all of us in some way,” Abby said. “We are truly raising awareness on campus and to the surrounding community.”

Senior Shannon Dingman participated in the event last year and was eager to join the cause again in this year’s walk.

“The event never fails to make me feel not only empowered but also as if we have a voice for the ones we’ve lost, which is such as an amazing feeling,” she said.

“This walk brings not only awareness and donations, but it brings much needed resources to this campus. This walk brings hope to people, and some may start to have faith in their situations again, knowing that there are resources for them.”

Fighting for Awareness

Jeremy Duby, director of bands, John Moore, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, and junior Abby Smith worked together to plan this year’s event.

Abby and Professor Duby explain motivating factors behind their dedication to the cause.

“Having lost two people in my life to suicide, I do this for them,” Abby said. “That personal connection is what drives me and reminds me why we fight every day to bring awareness to campus. I do it for others who are struggling with their mental health and those who have lost someone to suicide. I know what it’s like, and I want people to know they’re not alone, and that’s really what these events are about: togetherness, support and hope.”

Professor Duby sees opportunities like the walk as a way to personally influence the lives of students.

“I have the unique opportunity to work with students in and out of the classroom through the art of music,” he said. “This cultivates a special bond with students as we are using our emotions and experiences to work with students in many different capacities: teacher, adviser, counselor. I have worked with students during some of their most difficult times. It is important to me that students have a resource available to them for help should they be in need. Suicide is the second most common cause of death for college-aged students. Suicide prevention and awareness is important to me because I care about the health and well-being of my students. I want to do what I can to ensure that resources are available on campus and that our students know they can get help whenever they need.”

Since the first walk, the College has assembled a student mental health taskforce with the goal of using these resources to best benefit the students.

Professor Moore is eager to continue making a difference at the College with funds raised from the walk.

“It was clear on the day of the walk that this is a painful issue for many of us, but it was great to see so many people caring for and supporting each other,” Professor Moore said. “The funds we have raised will now help us continue improving the way the College supports us all, by bringing more resources to campus. The most important message is that there is hope for people in pain or in crisis, and the walk helps us show that there is a lot of love and support here on campus.”

Moving Forward

Abby’s baby goddaughter, Gabby, was at the event. Abby believes that Gabby’s generation will be the next to take up the torch and lead the charge against suicide and stigma associated with mental health issues.

“There’s no age limit to suicide prevention, so seeing people of all ages at the walk was important to this cause and the awareness we’re trying to build,” Abby said. “Gabby will be part of the next generation who advocates for suicide prevention and mental health, and I hope that by the time she’s older, these topics will finally be out of the darkness.”

There’s still time to donate to the Olivet College campus walk. Donations for the event will be accepted through June 30. For more information about Olivet College, contact the Office of Admissions at 800.456.7189 or admissions@olivetcollege.edu.

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