This weekend, hundreds of people participated in a march at Montclair State University to raise awareness of the prevalence of suicide in our society.
At the end of the walk, the participants were met by a dozen dogs to pet and cuddle. The dogs were all from Therapy Dogs International (TDI), a non-profit, volunteer-based organization that trains dogs and handlers to visit places where they can be of service. All the dogs were friendly and loved attention, instantly becoming the center of attention and bringing smiles to many faces in the quad.
The march for suicide awareness was one of the many “Out of the Darkness” walks that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) organized as fundraisers nationwide. The walk at Montclair State took place on Saturday, Oct. 10 in honor of World Mental Health Day. The goal of the day is to acknowledge the issues people with mental health face all over the world.
This event kicked off Montclair State’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which consists of an amalgam of educational and recreational events surrounding the topic of mental health. One focus of this week is to inform students on the services available to help them, whether they are suffering from suicidal thoughts, stress from school or anything in between. The week will end with an overview of mental health information and available resources on Friday, Oct. 16.
A lot of students attended the event and were happy with how it turned out. “I know a lot of people who have had depression and suicidal thoughts. I think people need to get a better understanding of mental health issues and this was a great opportunity to help spread awareness. Oh, and the dogs were great too,” said Gabrielle Galvez, a junior Public Health major.
The event was sponsored by Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the department at Montclair State that provides individual and group counseling to help students cope with different mental health issues. One of the organizers of this event was Deanna Mendez, a senior Psychology major at Montclair State. She is a CAPS empowerment ambassador and the co-president of Active Minds, along with Carolina Mendonca, who is also a Psychology major with a minor in Justice and Family Studies.
According to Mendez, “I would be here whether or not I helped coordinate the event. Suicide has affected my life personally. I want to give people a space where they can get the support they need and know that we are here to help each other. Ultimately, our goal is to break the stigma of mental health issues and prevent suicide both on and off campus.”
This was not the first Suicide Awareness walk that was organized by CAPS. They had a suicide awareness march two years ago, but this year’s event marks the first of a new annual tradition. Mendez is also working on an awareness march in spring 2016 in collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
The nationwide Out of the Darkness marches are a large movement and have led to gatherings of thousands of people to honor those who have been lost, educate the public on how to protect those suffering from suicidal thoughts and push against the stigma associated with mental illness in general.