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More than 1,000 join Out of the Darkness Campus Walk for suicide prevention

The Out of the Darkness Campus Walk, which brings awareness to mental health and suicide prevention, provided Hornets and community members an opportunity to obtain information about crisis hotlines, domestic violence resources and counseling services. (Sacramento State/Bibiana Ortiz)

Leslie Maciel was quietly suffering from anxiety and depression when she tried to take her own life at the age of 12.

Now thriving as a Sacramento State Criminal Justice student, she and her relatives and friends wore matching shirts declaring themselves members of “Leslie’s Crew” at Thursday’s annual Out of the Darkness Campus Walk focusing on mental health and suicide prevention.

Out of the Darkness campus walk held up signs in support of mental health and suicide prevention.
Out of the Darkness Campus Walk participants held up signs with messages of hope and encouragement. (Sacramento State/Bibiana Ortiz)

The event, hosted by Student Health and Counseling Services, Active Minds Sacramento State and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, put a spotlight on mental health awareness and raised funds for programs that support area residents who need services.

More than 1,000 people participated in Sac State’s gathering, making it among the largest in the nation. Participants obtained information about crisis hotlines, domestic violence resources and counseling services. Therapy dogs from Canine Companions accepted hugs and pats.

Prior to starting the 2-mile trek across campus, speakers stressed the importance of talking about mental health and reaching out to those who may be suffering.

“Loneliness, isolation and mental health concerns greatly impact college students,” said Ali Hopkins, a Sac State health promotion specialist and coordinator of the walk. “Connection and community are protective factors and healing agents.”

Some 46,000 people commit suicide in the United States each year, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students.

“The need for conversations around mental health is greater now than ever before,” said Sac State President Luke Wood.

Across the country, about 250,000 people took part in Out of the Darkness events this year, organizers of the Sacramento event said.

Nataly Andrade Dominguez, the University’s student body president, said she grew up in a household where “therapy was for the weak, crying was childish,” and conversations about feelings were discouraged.

“I didn’t talk about my mental health,” she said. “But I learned how to turn my pain into power.”

Another student, Cierra Fisher, said she once made an elaborate plan to end her life.

An Out of the Darkness participant writes a message on a chalkboard.
Out of the Darkness participants wrote messages on chalkboards about why they wanted to walk. (Sacramento State/Bibiana Ortiz) 

“I felt hopeless, lost, and a burden to those around me,” she said.

A friend noticed significant changes in her behavior, and urged her to seek counseling.

“It put me on track to become the person you see before you,” said Fisher, now a graduate student focused on rehabilitation counseling.

After the speakers finished, participants marched across campus carrying signs and wearing colored beads honoring loved ones and others who are struggling with mental health concerns.

“I believe in U, I am here for U, I love U,” one sign read. “I Miss You,” read another.

Among the marchers was Leslie Maciel’s mother, Rocio, who reflected on her daughter’s journey from mental health struggles to Sac State student.

“We didn’t give up on her, and now she is doing very well,” said Rocio, who along with other family members and dogs Bella and Fluffy traveled from Ventura County to attend.

“It wasn’t easy,” Rocio said. “I cried many times for her, but I dried my tears and picked myself up and kept going.”

Family support and counseling saved her life, Leslie Maciel said.

“Look for help,” she advised others who might be silently experiencing a mental health crisis. “It’s definitely out there.”

About 1,000 community members walked in the Out of the Darkness event.
Sacramento State's Out of the Darkness Campus Walk had one of the highest turnouts across the nation with about 1,000 participants. Nationwide, about 250,000 people took part in the event, organizers said. (Sacramento State/Bibiana Ortiz)

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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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