On Apr. 15, 2009, Frank Ciappi Jr. died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head two months before his high school graduation at Clifton High School. Having just been accepted into Keane University to study marine biology, Ciappi’s family did not see the signs leading up to his death. He was 18 years old.
“He was a good kid,” said Carmen Garcia, Ciappi’s stepmother. “He struggled and we never really realized the signs. Walking [today] means being able to have the opportunity to raise funds and awareness and, at the same time, honor Frankie so that his death is not in vain.”
Montclair State University held its annual Out of the Darkness suicide prevention community walk Saturday on the Student Center quad, where hundreds of people gathered to help spread suicide awareness with the goal of reducing the national suicide rate 20 percent by 2025.
Melanie Ciappi, Frank’s sister, worked alongside the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and Montclair State’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) department to bring the Out of the Darkness community walk to Montclair State back in 2010, with a goal of decreasing the nation’s annual average of 40,000 deaths, 1,100 of these deaths being those of college students.
The three-mile long walk was organized and coordinated by the AFSP and CAPS and took place at other colleges and communities across the nation.
“This walk is done all over the United States,” said psychologist and outreach and prevention coordinator at CAPS, Dr. Sudha Wadhwani. “CAPS elected to bring the community walk here [to Montclair State]. We feel very privileged to be working with AFSP.”
At each event, activity stations kept walk participants and other guests entertained and educated them on suicide prevention. These activity stations also gave individuals a chance to donate to the AFSP.
“All funds raised [are] put back into the community through research, advocacy and [suicide] education,” said Ashley San Giacomo, secretary of Northern New Jersey AFSP. “AFSP’s mission is to save lives.”
At the Montclair State Out of the Darkness walk, campus organizations came together for the cause. Donation stations lined the quad near the playing field along with a few tables giving out shirts, hats and other apparel supporting the event. Some of the clothing was printed by family members and friends with the names or photos of the loved ones they’d lost to suicide − like shirts in honor and in memory of Ciappi that read “In Frankie’s Honor” on the front.
Because the community walk was an emotion-filled event, trained therapy dogs were also brought to the campus for anyone in need of support, stress-relief or a little love from a furry animal.
The AFSP is the nation’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to suicide awareness, mental illness and saving lives. The organization was founded in 1987 by a group of people who had lost loved ones to suicide. Nearly 250,000 people participate in their community walks every year.
While the AFSP has been working with Montclair State for the past six years, CAPS started collaborating with the campus community not long after the school changed its name from Montclair State College to Montclair State University in 1994.
In the United States, a person dies from suicide every 12.3 minutes, and for every death, there are 25 attempted suicides. Most of these deaths are those of middle-aged white males ranging between ages 45 and 64. According to the AFSP website, men die by suicide 3.5 times more than women, and 50 percent of those suicides are caused by firearms. Twenty-six percent of suicides are caused by suffocation, including hangings.
Montclair State’s suicide rate is very low compared to the rest of the country, being that it is a big campus, but suicide threats and attempts are on the rise every year.
“Nationally, suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students,” said director of CAPS, Jaclyn Friedman-Lombardo. “[CAPS] has known of students here at Montclair who have committed suicide. Because Montclair State is such a large school, I wouldn’t be able to accurately estimate [how many].”
The Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk will return to Montclair State every October, in the hope of fulfilling donation goals for the AFSP and lowering suicide statistics in northern New Jersey.
“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” said Wadhwani. “We want people to know that they’re not alone [and that] there are resources available to get through these difficult times.”