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Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention draws hundreds

As he addressed a crowd of hundreds standing in a drizzle outside of The WELL on Thursday evening, April 14, President Robert S. Nelsen wore a string of white beads around his neck. The beads told everyone participating in Sacramento State’s Out of the Darkness walk that he had lost a child to suicide.

Others wore beads with colors reflecting their own losses: red for a spouse, gold for a parent, purple for a friend.

“I walk for Seth,” Nelsen said tearfully of his son, who died by suicide when he was 25 years old. “To all of you who have had your hearts broken because of a loss, we care about you. You will always carry it with you, but you must be able to help others in need. That’s what this walk is all about.”

The event, which puts a spotlight on suicide prevention and mental health awareness, drew more than 1,000 registered participants and raised more than $27,000 as of Friday morning for programs that support Sacramento-area residents in need of services.

A woman wearing a poncho holds and looks down at necklaces made of blue, green and purple beads
Many Out of the Darkness participants wore necklaces with colored beads representing loved ones lost to suicide. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Toting colorful umbrellas and wearing rain ponchos, marchers walked the two-mile route around campus in honor of those who took their own lives and those who continue to suffer from afflictions such as depression and bipolar disorder. Often, because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, people suffer in silence.

“To this day, I’ve been quiet about what I go through,” student body president Samantha Elizalde told the crowd before the march began, sharing for the first time publicly that she struggles with anxiety and depression. “I felt like I was putting on a mask when I came to campus.”

She finally got help through the University’s Student Health and Counseling Services, and is feeling better, she said. “If you’re struggling, reach out for help. It could change your life, as it has changed mine.”

Inside The WELL, participants scribbled notes on a large chalkboard about why they were marching. “For my Brother,” one said. “I miss calling you for recipes,” said another.

Alex Byrd, a board member for the local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said she was overwhelmed by the number of people who turned out on a rainy night to support people with mental health concerns and their families.

“You are sending a message,” Byrd said. “By showing up, you are demonstrating to others that suicide can no longer be ignored.”

She asked people to raise their hands, group by group, to acknowledge losing a child, friend, or relative to suicide.

“You are not alone,” she said, over and over. “You are not alone.”

A woman writes on a large, black chalkboard filled with messages about "Why I Walk" from Out of the Darkness participants
Inside The WELL, Out of the Darkness participants shared their reasons for walking on a large chalkboard. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

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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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