Jody Nelsen walked in memory of her son, Seth, and in support of others who share what she calls “this horrible, life-changing experience."
“I also walked to support those who struggle with suicidal thoughts,” she says.
Nelsen, wife of Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen, led a record number of students, faculty, staff, and community members - 1,519 participants were registered - in Sac State’s seventh annual Out of the Darkness Campus Walk on Thursday, April 12. A resources fair, which included a visit from therapy dogs, began at 4 p.m. in front of The WELL, followed by the opening ceremony and 2-mile walk to the residence halls and back.
Jody Nelsen, wife of President Robert S. Nelsen, shares the story of losing their son, Seth, to suicide. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone) | Photo album
Sac State raised $16,952.50 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and its education and prevention programs. The website will be open for donations through June 30, so donations are expected to increase.
Last year, Sacramento State's walk was the largest in the nation, with 950 participants, and it raised $13,667 for AFSP’s programs.
“I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in such pain and to feel it every day,” says Jody Nelsen, whose only child took his life in 2001 at age 25.
“After Seth’s death, I was in a great deal of pain, but the support I received from friends, family, and co-workers made a huge difference and helped me to heal. I only hope I can help someone else.”
Sac State’s Student Health & Counseling Services (SHCS) and the campus Active Minds chapter teamed with AFSP for this year's walk.
“Suicide affects everyone in some way,” says SHCS health educator Jennifer Burton. “For so long, people didn’t think they could talk about it, but this opens the door for the community to discuss suicide and mental health in a safe space.
"And it’s so empowering. Everyone leaves the walk with a sense of hope and encouragement. The Sac State community is so supportive.”
In conjunction with the event, SHCS has produced a series of “Why We Walk” videos, with testimonials by Sac State students, faculty, and President Nelsen. Also in support of the walk, Active Minds created a 6-by-4-foot “Why We Walk” chalkboard for people to sign and share their personal stories. The chalkboard ultimately will be displayed at The WELL.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among university and college students, claiming the lives of 1,100 young adults each year. Those lost lives are represented by 1,100 small flags that were displayed April 10-11 in the Library Quad. Printed on each flag were the suicide hotline number and the words “HOPE: Hold On to Positive Emotions.”
Sacramento State is committed to reducing the alarming suicide rate among young people and all populations, and Jody Nelsen has made it her life’s work to help people who lost a loved one to suicide.
After receiving training through AFSP, she started the support group Healing Together, which meets monthly near Sac State. Email SuicideLossHealingTogether@gmail.com for more information.
“It is amazing how helpful it is to talk with someone who truly understands how you feel: the grief, the guilt, the confusion, and the immense loss of what we expected our future and the future of our loved one to be,” Nelsen says.
“By talking with others, you learn there is hope that healing will take place and, even though your life is changed forever, it can be a good life.” - Dixie Reid
Why We Walk videos:
- Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen
- Ed Mills, vice president for Student Affairs
- Alex: "I am a suicide-prevention secret agent."
- Lisa: "I know what it feels like to be totally alone."
- Mia Kagianas, ASI president
- Timi Poeppelman, faculty
In the media: