Recent graduate Delina Tran finishes the last leg of the Suicide Prevention Walk toward the HUB. The event featured over 200 participants in the walk.
Recent graduate Delina Tran finishes the last leg of the Suicide Prevention Walk toward the HUB. The event featured over 200 participants in the walk.Photo by Josh Bessex
John Camacho walked on the Burke-Gilman Trail with his teacup Chihuahua prancing at his feet and four beaded necklaces of different colors jingling at his own neck.
More than 200 people, Camacho included, participated in the second annual Out of the Darkness Campus Walk on April 13 to spread awareness of suicide, honor loved ones, and provide support for those connected to suicide loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012, suicide is the third leading cause of death among people 15 to 24 years old.
The campus walk is part of a new program the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) launched in 2011. According to Jo McNeal, the Pacific Northwest area director for the AFSP, there have been more than 100 campus walks nationwide. Various colleges and high schools in Washington have been hosting walks since 2011.
UW sophomore Juliana Borges lost a friend to suicide during her senior year of high school, three weeks before graduation. To raise awareness of suicide and how many people are affected by it, Borges and six other students established the organization Huskies for Suicide Prevention & Awareness (HSPA) in fall 2011.
Shortly after, Borges attended a community walk in Bellingham where she met McNeal, who pitched the idea for her to host a campus walk at the UW. Consequently, Borges organized the UW’s first walk last spring with the help of other HSPA officers and the AFSP. More than 100 people participated and raised $12,500 by the end of June to further the mission of the AFSP and support mental health and suicide research across the nation. This year’s participants have raised $8,700 so far, and fundraising is open until late June.
“I want people to realize the importance of opening up this conversation about suicide, about depression, about mental health being equal to physical health [in importance],” Borges said. “It’s just so important on a college campus where so many students are prone to depression.”
One major aspect of the walk was the honor beads, necklaces of different colors worn by participants to show how suicide has affected their lives. Camacho wore blue beads to show support for the campus walk’s cause. He wore red, white, and blue beads to show support for the military; he has been serving since 2007. He wore silver beads to remember the loss of first responders and soldiers to suicide.
The orange beads symbolize the loss of a sibling, but Camacho wore them in remembrance of Matthew Fayton, his best friend from high school and best man at his wedding.
Camacho was deployed to Afghanistan in March 2011, five days before Fayton committed suicide. A week before his death, Fayton had sent Camacho a Facebook message saying, “Even though we have not kicked it in a while, you are always going to be my brother.”
“I had no idea that was going to happen,” Camacho said. “To this day it makes me sad to know I wasn’t back home. I constantly say that if I’d been back home, I could’ve done this or done that, but I’ve come to realize … I can’t go back in time.”
The Out of the Darkness Walk was one of two major events HSPA led this year. Earlier in the fall, HSPA organized Mental Health Awareness Week to educate the campus community about mental illnesses and stress the importance of asking for help when needed. HSPA plans to continue both events the following academic year.
“Everyone has some connection to [this cause], and everyone should be trying to better their mental health,” Borges said. “Suicide awareness should be a bigger part of our daily conversations.”
Reach reporter A. Jion Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: AJionKim
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