American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Sami Damsky, far right, coordinator for Saturday morning’s Out of the Darkness event, leads participants in a walk around the Appalachian State University campus to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The walk raised $13,020 for AFSP to invest in new research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy and support survivors of suicide loss.

Appalachian State University observed Suicide Awareness Week last week, joining the movement to protect the community against the devastation of suicide by decreasing the stigma around discussing it, learning how to better prevent it and remembering and honoring those lost.

Elisabeth Cavallaro, ASU’s suicide prevention coordinator, said that the goal of the week was to spread the message of hope and that resources are available.

“You are surrounded by a community of people who care and you are not alone,” she said. “Getting people that message and getting them connected to the many resources available to them was the goal and will remain the goal.”

The events were supported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness High Country, ASU’s Counseling and Psychological Services Center and students representing a variety of organizations and clubs, including the Student Government Association and Greek life.

Throughout the course of the week, ribbons were distributed to students at a table in the Plemmons Student Union. Students were encouraged to write a note of hope and have their picture taken as they hold up an encouraging message.

The kickoff went on Tuesday evening, “Together We Rise,” had the biggest turnout, according to Cavallaro. It included refreshments, music, volleyball, corn hole, tie-dye and speakers.

Suicide prevention training sessions were held on Tuesday and Wednesday in the student union. The sessions used role-play and activities to teach students suicide statistics, myths and warning signs, how to talk to someone in distress and where and how to refer for more help. All participants received a participation certificate.

The biographical drama film, “To Write Love on Her Arms,” depicting the struggle of a young woman struggling with addiction, bipolar disorder and self-harm, was screened on Wednesday in Belk Library. A panel discussion followed the film, featuring professionals including NAMI High Country board member Murray Hawkinson, and students.

Cavallaro said that the panel discussion featured a lot of good information.

Suicide Remembrance Night took place on Thursday night in the heart of campus on Sanford Mall, featuring speakers and the making of a “String of Hope,” composed of personalized message cards featuring purple ribbons strung between trees on campus to represent mental health awareness.

“The Suicide Remembrance Night, while smaller, provided a space for healing and hope,” Cavallaro said.

The capstone event of the week was Saturday morning’s Out of the Darkness Campus Walk. Students and community members met at Legends, where a few speakers shared their personal experiences with suicide and promoting support to prevent it.

Speakers included Laura Anne Middlesteadt, a board member at NAMI High Country, Sami Damsky, coordinator for the event, and Cavallaro. There was also a memory wall in Legends for participants to post notes dedicated to those lost to suicide.

Then, participants walked about two miles through and around the ASU campus, in spite of Saturday morning’s rain.

The Out of the Darkness Campus Walk was a fundraising opportunity for ASU and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to invest in new research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy and support survivors of suicide loss.

The goal at the beginning of the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk campaign was to raise $5,000 through donors. By Saturday, the event had raised $13,020, more than double the initial goal.

Cavallaro said that, overall, the week was successful. “The attendance has been wonderful and the audience has been engaged and attentive. I think that our speakers have really made an impact,” she said.

“If you recognize that you, or someone that you know, is in danger of suicide or self-harm, there are resources available,” officials said.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, 24/7 service that can provide suicidal persons or those around them with support, information and local resources. Contact (800) 273-TALK (8255). The chat feature is also available from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. at SuicidePreventionLifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx.

ASU’s Counseling Center is also a resource for students. During business hours, call Counseling and Psychological Services at (828) 262-3180 for assistance. After hours or on weekends, call University Police at (828) 262-2150 and ask to speak with the on-call counselor.

Learn more about suicide prevention at ASU by visiting PreventSuicide.appstate.edu.

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