Over 250 students and community members gathered for the first Out of the Darkness Walk in Ann Arbor on Friday in the Nichols Arboretum. The event, sponsored by Active Minds, took place to remember suicide victims and raise money for suicide prevention, raising over $28,000.
Reid Depowski, LSA senior and chair of the Walk, organized the walk after losing two loved ones to suicide. In addition to raising money to increase suicide prevention, Depowski hoped the event would bring more awareness to suicide and its prevention.
“I hope it normalizes talking about mental health,” Depowski said. “Bringing people out of the darkness is really our mission here and not making people feel shameful if they’ve lost someone to suicide, if they currently struggle with suicide ideations, that it’s OK to talk about these things and to reach out and get help and support one another.”
Despite this being the first Out of the Darkness Walk in Ann Arbor, the amount of money raised surpassed Depowski’s expectations by over $18,000. The Out of the Darkness Walks are part of the initiatives taken by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“We are actually aiding in AFSP’s goal to reduce suicide by 20 percent by 2025,” Depowski said. “We are doing that today with half of the funds that we are raising, half of which are going to national organization to put into resources in research and programming across the country. And the other half is coming back to our University to make real change with at least $14,000 to put back into mental health resources on campus.”
The event drew both students and community members, many of whom came out to remember lost ones. Ann Arbor resident Tess Fine came to the event because she lost her fiancé to suicide last November.
“I hope that it just brings awareness to a really complex issue that goes beyond circumstance, it goes beyond mental health, it goes beyond all those things,” Fine said. “And I hope that if there’s anyone here who’s struggling, that they don’t feel alone.”
LSA senior Rachel John, a member of the Wolverine Support Network, came to the event with her organization. She said the number of people present for the walk demonstrates the importance of the issue to the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor communities.
“As well as the fundraising aspect, I think the awareness is what’s important,” John said. “I think this is the first (Out of the Darkness Walk) on campus so I think that’s really great because in my four years here, this is the first one on campus.”
LSA freshman Charlie Gerard said the commitment to the cause showed what defines the community and that talking about this issue is important not for only those personally affected.
“I think just that (the community is) willing to go out of their way and … help support a cause,” Gerard said. “It’s a very prevalent thing, unfortunately, and so to kind of look at it and sort of try to look to help getting the situation improved upon (is beneficial to the cause).”
Depowski mentioned she already has plans for a walk next year, which she said she is going to chair as a graduate student.
“We’re going to be, I’m assuming, expanding our team based on how many students are interested today,” Depowski said. “So I would assume that we’re just going to keep growing and growing and hopefully be as big as Relay (for Life) or Dance Marathon at the U of M campus.”