The University of New Orleans Office of Counseling Services recently led an effort that raised more than $1,000 for suicide prevention. Sixteen UNO students participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walk, an annual fundraising event. September is Suicide Prevention Month, and the walk was held on September 10th which has been recognized as World Suicide Prevention Day since 2003 by the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organization.
According the American Association of Suicidology, suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth attending U.S. colleges and universities.
“Unfortunately, suicide and mental illness are still extremely stigmatized and therefore it’s important to develop creative ways that students can feel comfortable to get involved in these types of efforts," said Nina Stewart, counselor and coordinator of outreach for UNO counseling services.
"The walk was a safe, non-threatening outlet for students to come together as members of the UNO community while supporting national efforts for suicide prevention," she added. "I have had friends and family who have lost someone to suicide, and I know that such a loss can impact an entire community.”
For these reasons, Stewart feels that it is essential to create campus outreach initiatives that can help generate awareness of suicide prevention resources.
Out of the Darkness Walks take place in 350 communities around the country, and UNO’s team participated in the New Orleans walk in Audubon Park. Katie Chosa, an instructor and coordinator in the UNO English department, was the chief organizer of the New Orleans fundraising walk. According to the event’s website, the New Orleans walk raised $45,257. Money raised by the walks funds research for suicide prevention, creation and distribution of suicide prevention education programs, public policy advocacy efforts and support for survivors of suicide loss.
Stewart created a team for UNO and served as team captain. Though fundraising is not mandatory for participating in the walk, she decided to set a modest goal of raising $150. Once students signed up to walk, each was able to create a personal fundraising page with a link for spreading the news with friends and family about their participation. Together, the UNO team surpassed Stewart’s goal by 735 percent, raising a total of $1,103.
Student participants included Jeremy Cavalier, Deborah Centola, Leah Primeaux, Sonia Rubens, Arlette Murillo, Madison Hebert, Maryellen Fazenbaker, Mackenzie Savoy, Logan Hewitt, Brenna Sisson, Aerial Robertson, Lance Greco, Caitlin McLurkin and Thomas Maestri.
“I think this is incredible,” Stewart said of the team’s fundraising. She also said she learned a great deal from the whole experience.
“I learned that several members of the UNO community have been impacted by the loss of a suicide and, when given the opportunity, they will join together, raise awareness and become effective advocates for things they care about. They are truly altruistic.”
Suicide prevention resources: