Beneath a cool and cloudless sky, hundreds of people wearing beads of blue, purple, green, and teal fill the streets. Among the crowd are Arkansas Tech students and faculty as well as parents, siblings, friends, and relatives from the Russellville community. Some can be spotted wearing t-shirts that read “You matter” and “We walk so others might live.” Balloons mingle with the breeze as the crowd organizes itself, and all the people at once begin their trek, walking together behind a fluttering white banner.
This is the Arkansas Tech campus Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk. The event, returning after a two-year hiatus, is held to honor those who have fought or are fighting depression, those who have been taken by suicide, and those who are survivors of suicide.
The 1.5-mile walk will take place Saturday, April 9 at Doc Bryan, beginning with check-in at 9 a.m. and officially starting at 10 a.m. Online registration is now open at www.afsp.org/atu.
“Suicide takes more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined,” said Kristy Davis, associate dean for student wellness at Tech. “The funds raised will help the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention fund research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy and support survivors of suicide loss.”
Davis started the project in 2014 with co-director Tonya Gosnell, community education manager at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Russellville.
“All walkers are welcome,” Davis said. “And registration is free.”
According to Davis, the walk itself is short, taking about an hour or less of the morning. But this short event is a large deal to the Tech and Russellville communities, who have yearly shown up and shown out.
The event typically sees between 300 and 600 walkers, and on three occasions, Tech has ranked among the top 10 fund-raising campus walks to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“This community never ceases to amaze me each year we host this event,” said Davis. “We’ve had some really good years, and a really great turnout from our community. It’s been an honor to welcome those who care so much about stopping suicide.”
Since 2014, the Tech campus walk has raised over $100,000. Although the university has been unable to host the event in-person for the past two years due to COVID-related concerns, Davis reported that the project is “back on track.”
“We’re glad to be able to have the walk in-person again. It can be really healing for people,” the co-director said.
She also voiced her hope that more Tech students join the event this year to spread greater awareness about mental health on campus.
“In the past, we’ve had some students come but it’s primarily been community members. I would really like to get more student organizations and just more students in general involved,” Davis explained. “Even if you don’t raise funds, we would love to have anyone that can come and walk with us.”
The co-director emphasized that although the event brings attention to the issue of mental health awareness, the battle does not end here. It is important for people to bring this awareness into their day-to-day lives, watching for signs of depression in loved ones and offering support wherever possible.
“I think, just being aware of signs that a friend is struggling, and then saying something to them, is incredibly important. It really is as simple as asking, ‘Are you okay? I noticed, you know, this change or this behavior,” Davis said. “And then, hopefully, you can help them find some resources to help.”
It is the responsibility of Tech students to join in the efforts of the Russellville community. We must work together to fight in the war against suicide and spread awareness about depression. As the world emerges from a pandemic which took a great toll on the mental health of many of us–and as our community begins to rebuild from the rubble–we must stand strong and ready to recognize when someone is in need. And we must be ready to provide support.
In the words of Kevin Hemphill, one of the Sigma Pi fraternity brothers of suicide victim Jake Caviness, who shared his testimony during the 2016 Tech Out of the Darkness walk, “We don’t walk just for today. We must walk together all of our lives. By doing so, we can walk together out of the darkness and into the light.”
For more information about suicide awareness, or if you or a friend are in need of need help, Tech offers resources at https://www.atu.edu/hwc/suicideresources.php.