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Out of the Darkness walk returns to campus to support suicide prevention

Many of the more than 1,300 participants trek through campus during the 2019 Out of the Darkness walk. The event returns in person this year after two years of being virtual. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

College is a stressful time for many young people, and for some the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Sacramento State, like many universities across the country, has seen demand for mental health services climb since March 2020, when most of the campus community began working, teaching and studying at home as the pandemic swept in.

This week, the University will host the annual Out of the Darkness Campus Walk for Suicide Prevention, emphasizing efforts to maintain good mental health and support for students and others who are experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. The event on Thursday, April 14, encourages conversations about suicide prevention and mental health concerns, and raises money for that effort.

Out of the Darkness 2019 image
Many participants in the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk have personal connections to people suffering from mental health challenges or who have committed suicide. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

For the first time since 2019, Out of the Darkness will take place in person. The event will begin with a Mental Health Resource Fair at 4 p.m. at The WELL, with opening ceremonies at 5:30 p.m. and the walk through campus starting shortly after that and concluding at about 7 p.m.

In a recent message, Sac State President Robert S. Nelsen encouraged the campus and wider community to participate.

“As we continue to heal from recent traumas, the Out of the Darkness Walk presents the opportunity for all students, organizations, departments, faculty, staff, and community members to come together and support one another,” he said.

“We must remember and honor those whose lives have been lost to suicide, while also taking action to help awareness so that no one ever feels alone or afraid to seek support.”

Seth Nelsen, Robert and Jody Nelsen’s son, took his own life in 2001.

More than 1,300 people participated during the last in-person event in 2019, many carrying signs depicting photos of lost loved ones. The 2020 and 2021 campus walks were held virtually because of COVID-19 safety guidelines, but both were fundraising successes, with the 2021 event surpassing its goal of $25,000.

This year’s fundraising goal is $30,000. Registration and donation information is on the Out of the Darkness Campus Walks web page.

“It will be powerful to see each other and look at each other and understand that we are all here together, supporting one another,” said Lara Falkenstein, public health communications specialist for Sac State’s Student Health and Counseling Services.

At the height of the pandemic, the University expanded online counseling and outreach to students, Falkenstein said. “We did have an increase in inquiries during that time, and our counselors were busy,” she said. “Students were feeling isolated and lonely, and they were reaching out for support.”

“We must remember and honor those whose lives have been lost to suicide, while also taking action to help awareness so that no one ever feels alone or afraid to seek support.” - President Robert S. Nelsen

Now that they are back on campus, students are “trying to live in a whole new world after two years away,” Falkenstein said, and many are struggling. “They just have a lot on their plates right now.”

Thursday’s event will emphasize seeking help for mental health issues including depression and anxiety, said Falkenstein.

Students who are new to campus may be unfamiliar with the range of wellness and mental health services available, said Falkenstein. “Some don’t know where to go or how to access resources,” she said. “We need to show that our campus supports them.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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