Out of darkness walk aims to raise mental health awareness

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April 24, 2017

11:37 PM

A week before final exams begin, hundreds of students and faculty at the College of William and Mary gathered to support mental health awareness.

Several student organizations collaborated to host the second annual Out of the Darkness Walk Saturday, April 22. The walk is part of a nation-wide campaign led by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

College President Taylor Reveley and Associate Vice President for Health and Wellness Kelly Crace opened the event by speaking on the importance of building a community at the College that recognizes and supports students’ mental health needs.

The walk began at the Rec and travelled on a loop down Jamestown Road and around the Sunken Garden. The event raised over $8,000 for AFSP.

Danny McNeil ’19 is a psychology major and one of the event co-chairs. He became involved in the walk through his fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega, which was one of the walk’s sponsors. He said he was also motivated to raise awareness about mental health because of his past experiences.

Growing up, suicide really affected my family,” McNeil said. “One of my best friends — her brother committed suicide, and some of my first memories, actually, were having nightmares about that. I think it’s one of the most horrible things, you know. It has affected my whole life.”

“Growing up, suicide really affected my family,” McNeil said. “One of my best friends — her brother committed suicide, and some of my first memories, actually, were having nightmares about that. I think it’s one of the most horrible things, you know. It has affected my whole life.”

McNeil said he thinks that mental health is a nation-wide problem on college campuses and views the walk as a sign that the College is making progress in its support programs.

McNeil thinks students and faculty need to change the way that they view mental health issues to remove the stigma associated with seeking help.

“What this event is really showing is that we have got to treat mental health like a disorder, like a disease,” McNeil said. “Just like you would go to a doctor if you broke your arm, you should go to the doctor if you’re not feeling well mentally or if you’re having thoughts about suicide or having thoughts about depression — that it’s perfectly normal to seek help.”

The other event co-chair, Zack Thornburg ’19, said he believes that poor mental health is relevant to every person on campus.

“I feel like if you don’t know someone who’s been affected by suicide or depression, you know someone who [knows someone] and that’s too many people,” Thornburg said.

He said he thinks that the size of and collaboration process behind this year’s walk set it apart from last year’s.

“We knew from the get-go that we wanted to make the walk bigger,” Thornburg said. “Every year you want to make an event bigger. We thought it would be nice to have other groups on campus involved who were also part of this cause.”

Chair of the Senate Alaina Shreves ’18 was the Student Assembly sponsor for this event. She said she thinks that the walk will help encourage students preparing for their final exams.

“Going into finals you also feel like the school, like, hates you and is doing all these things to make you suffer,” Shreves said. “The school has these resources, and they are going out of their way. The administration and professors are all behind you. They do want to make you succeed, not just academically but in all of your life.”

She views sponsoring the walk as a way to take mental health issues past the campaign rhetoric of SA elections.

For me it’s not just something I want to say in my campaign, but it’s actually what I wanted to do,” Shreves said. “Changing that conversation for one person would definitely be the impact that I need.”

“For me it’s not just something I want to say in my campaign, but it’s actually what I wanted to do,” Shreves said. “Changing that conversation for one person would definitely be the impact that I need.”

Her vision for the walk was to develop a sense of solidarity on campus around shared experiences with mental health issues.

“I think everyone during their time here at William and Mary will have some sort of episode where they’re feeling down, or they’re feeling like they don’t want to be here anymore,” Shreves said. “We are all here, and we all support that.”

McNeil said he agrees with that and believes that a stronger sense of community is the first step toward finding solutions.

“That’s one of the main reasons that we have this walk,” McNeil said. “It is to have an event that tells our community that we’re here for each other, and we’re going to walk for the future, for hope, and to really talk about the issues.”

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