Out of the Darkness walk spreads the message of hope to Orono

This story was co-authored by Taryn Carrie Lane.

On Sunday, Oct. 2, more than 400 people participated in the eighth annual Out of the Darkness walk at the University Mall. Out of the Darkness is a community walk that honors those who lost their lives to suicide. This event also provides a safe space and support to attempt survivors and those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

This year’s Out of the Darkness was held on a smaller scale than last year’s; around 1,000 people walked last year.

“Part of that is due to the fact there were only a couple of [suicide prevention] walks before,” Shane Cushing, a graduate assistant at the counseling center, said. Cushing served on the planning committee last year and this year he is the co-chair of the committee.

A total of six Out of the Darkness walks were held in Maine this year. The community walks took place in Fort Kent, Waterboro, Bath, Farmington, Biddeford and Orono.

Over $16,000 was raised in donations last Sunday. All funds raised went to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The mission of AFSP is to educate the public about suicide prevention, provide programs for suicide survivors, promote suicide prevention policies and more. By organizing suicide awareness events in all 50 states, AFSP set a goal to reduce the annual suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025.

“When I first heard of it, I immediately knew it was something meaningful for a lot of people in our community,” Cushing said. “Many more people than we realize are touched by suicide. It can be your family, friend, even your neighbor.”

According to AFSP, 42,773 Americans die by suicide each year.

At the event, people wore colorful beaded necklaces. Each color had its own meaning to the person wearing the necklace. For instance, those who contemplated suicide wore green beads, while those who lost a sibling to suicide wore orange beads.

“The thing that gets to me is looking out and seeing everybody’s beads and knowing what all of the beads mean. It reveals all of what everybody in here is carrying,” Lexie Dix, co-music director of UMaine’s female a capella group, Renaissance, said.

This is the fourth year that Renaissance performed at Out of the Darkness.

“The hardest part is when you look out at the crowd while you’re performing and you can tell that they are really listening to what we’re singing and it’s touching them. It’s amazing to know that we’re reaching out to them in a level we can’t understand, but, we just know that we are,” Michala Valley, co-music director of Renaissance, added.

First-year student Elijah Brooks was one of the volunteers who helped set up for the event. For Brooks, volunteering at this event was “all about giving back and helping out people.”

This year’s event consisted of a ceremony with guest speakers (including former minority leader in the Maine House of Representatives, Emily Cain) and a two mile walk through Orono. While walking, some participants carried flowers in honor of somebody they’d lost. The flowers were sent down the Stillwater River at the remembrance ceremony.

For Lisa Morin, coordinator for the Bodwell Center for Service and Volunteerism, the Out of the Darkness walk runs deeper than a volunteer job.

“I have a cousin who committed suicide a couple years ago, so I’m very passionate about the cause itself as well,” Morin said. “I’m really happy to be able to be here and work with the students and all the volunteers.”

This is Morin’s first year organizing volunteer work with the Out of the Darkness walk.

“The Bodwell Center works to find volunteer opportunities for students to work in the community and help with all the different causes that are going on,” Morin said. “This is just one of the ways that our students can volunteer and we have a huge crew of them that are here helping out.”

Morin firmly believes that Out of the Darkness gives support to those who need it, particularly students.

“Nationally, the suicide rates of kids of the ages that are on our campus are increasing. It’s definitely a problem, cyber bullying [for example], all the things that are now new to the world and [are] making life a little bit more difficult for our young people..They [students who may be considering suicide] all need to realize that these types of issues and what leads to suicide is something that’s common,” Morin said. “They need to speak out and they need to get help and they need to realize they’re not alone, so Out of the Darkness is really important for them to see that people care and want to make a difference and make their lives better.”

Russell Fascione, a third year psychology student, attended Out of the Darkness as co-president of UMaine Active Minds and as a worker for the Mind Spa.

The Mind Spa is the Counseling Center’s outreach office, which features fun activities like coloring and light boxes to help those who are stressed out to relax. It’s free and open to both students and staff.

UMaine Active Minds is a chapter of a nonprofit, national organization that is committed to breaking the stigma associated with mental illness on campus. UMaine Active Minds hosted an event called “The Big 5” last April, which helped educate passersby on the statistics of mental illnesses on college campuses around the country.

Fascione enjoys Out of the Darkness so much because the message ties in with his campus involvement.

“Our missions are so closely aligned,” Fascione said.

Fascione is dedicated to helping those who need encouragement, and he thinks Out of the Darkness is a perfect event for doing so.

“It [Out of the Darkness] shows people that there is a community there to support them if they’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, or if they’re dealing with suicidality themselves,” Fascione said. “And it just brings us all together and there’s a sense of camaraderie around the fact that we need to tackle this issue because so many people every year die by suicide.”

According to the Active Minds website, over 1,100 college students die by suicide annually.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue, including but not limited to suicidal thoughts, the Counseling Center may be reached at (207) 581-1392 during business hours, or by calling (207) 581-4040 and asking for the counselor on call 24 hours a day. You may also call 1-800-273-TALK for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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