Biddeford Campus hosts suicide prevention awareness walk and fundraiser

Out of the Darkness
Participants in the Out of the Darkness Walk begin their trek around campus

On April, 23, more than 100 people gathered on UNE’s Biddeford Campus to heighten awareness and raise funds for suicide prevention.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Out of the Darkness Walk was organized by students Wyatt Blackstone (HWOS, '22) and Sarah Swanick (Medical Biology, ’22). Both are members of UNE’s EMS club. The last time the walk was held on campus was in 2017 in remembrance of an EMS club member who took his own life.

“Last year, Sarah and I decided that we wanted to start the walk back up,” Blackstone explained.

Swanick says she has been involved in suicide prevention efforts since she was in high school, after one of her friends died by suicide.

“By getting involved, I felt like I was doing something to change something horrible that happened to me and to try to make sure it did not happen to someone else,” she said. “It has been like an outlet for me, to say I still struggle with this. It still hurts that this person is not in my life anymore.”

James Herbert, president of UNE, helped get the event started by addressing the crowd. Herbert recalled the days when he had a small practice as clinical psychologist.

“Almost every week, if not every day, I worked with people who had suicidal ideation and struggles of various kinds,” he told the gathering. “The single best thing we can do is simply be an ear, a non-judgmental ear, to listen and to make contact with someone who's struggling and then help point them in the direction to get the help that they need. I'm so gratified to see so many people here today who came out to support this cause, to bring awareness to suicide, to demystify it, and to destigmatize the struggles that folks face.”

In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death among those between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among those 35 to 44, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overall, it was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States that year.

After gathering on the lawn next to Ripich Commons, attendees then walked a one-mile loop around campus to acknowledge the ways in which suicide has affected their own lives, to raise awareness about the issue, and to bring in donations for AFSP.

The organization uses the funds it raises to invest in new research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy, and support survivors of suicide loss.

“Hopefully this event will help start up conversations here on campus regarding mental health, not just for students here but also for the greater public,” Blackstone commented.

The event also gave participants access to resources, such as crisis hotline numbers and information to boost your mental health.

As a leader in the fight against suicide, AFSP has set a goal to reduce the annual suicide rate 20% by 2025.


Organizers with President Herbert

President Herbert with organizers Wyatt Blackstone and Sarah Swanick

Walkers with signs

More than 100 people took part