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  • Writer's picturePAYTON HEBERT

Hope Week brings light to mental health on campus

L-R Ryan Ruane, Nicholas Bresciano, Stephanie Perles, Alyson Barnes, Lily Reidy, Jackie Scopa and Cassie Menounos at the Out of Darkness Campus Walk. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Perles

From March 18-22, the Counseling Center and Office of Health Education, in conjunction with the National Council for Wellbeing, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, hosted a week full of events in support of mental health and suicide prevention awareness. The events included Be Well Bingo, Barn Babies, and Mental Health First Aid Certification. 

Associate Director of Health Education Adela Hruby has hosted several mental health and wellness events in the past with the Counseling Center. Hruby said that these events, along with student feedback, have been instrumental in the planning process for Hope Week. 

“We’ve learned a lot over the years about how best to schedule events and the value of food and prizes…and ‘Barn Babies’ drawing students to events,” said Hruby. “Historically, every spring we would run a one-day mental health and suicide prevention awareness event called ‘Fresh Check Day.’ This is the first year we’ve chosen to spend a week, rather than just one day, focusing on this topic, with a broader variety of activities.”

The week’s featured event was the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk that took place on March 22. Over 140 members of the community registered to walk three miles for suicide prevention awareness, raising $13,000 for the cause. The event was hosted through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), which hosts walks at college and high school campuses around the country. 

Community members were also able to gather before the walk in Arnow quad, where there were therapy dogs, bracelet-making stations, and a food truck from Hungry Nomads. ASFP Special Events Manager Heather Claflin and Programs Manager Michele Lee also gave speeches. 

The walk was a first-time event on campus. Junior psychology student Emily Spertner came up with the idea to bring the walk to campus as her internship credit. Spertner was motivated to host the event after a personal experience with the topic.

“6 years ago, I received a call from a friend in crisis, and that moment has stayed with me ever since. It ignited within me a strong desire to help others, to ensure that nobody feels alone in their struggles,” said Spertner. “In that moment my decision to reach out to emergency services led to the loss of that friendship. However, one year later, I received a letter in the mail thanking me for saving their life. 14-year-old me was not sure of all the ways I could assist, 15-year-old me recognized and realized the impact I made, and since then I have been committed to help spread light, become further educated and bring hope in this world to others struggling.”

Junior fashion merchandising major Stephanie Perles participated in the planning process for the walk. Her and her team of five fellow students were able to raise $1,910, the third most of any participating team. Perles said the walk was a success. 

Mia Sullivan-Sanders and Ryan Ruane pose at a Hope Week event. Photo courtesy of Ryan Ruane.

“I think the walk was extremely successful and impactful. I think everyone had a great time with the food truck and the therapy dogs there along with the music,” said Perles, “When I was at meetings with Emily [Spertner] prior to the walk, we talked about how we wanted this event to be fun and lifting because mental health and suicide prevention is a tough discussion to talk about since many people deal with mental health issues.”

All donations and fundraising from the walk will aid the ASFP in funding research, creating educational programs, advocating for public policy, and supporting survivors of suicide loss. In addition to being able to raise money for the cause, Spertner said that a goal of hers was to uplift the community and spread important messages. 

“I believe that everyone needs the chance to see how many others support them. It is important for everyone to understand they are never alone,” said Spertner, “My goal is to inspire other students to continue spreading hope and positivity in their everyday lives, making our world a better place.”

Mental health is something that most people struggle with in some capacity. Hruby adds that individuals who feel they are struggling are encouraged to reach out to the Counseling Center for support and access to resources. 

“It’s important to know that most people, over the course of their lives, will experience a period of challenging mental health. But, for most people, mental health challenges are not life-long,” said Hruby, “People often can and do recover from all kinds of mental health challenges. The key is to find support, whether that’s in trusted friends or loved ones, professionals, or in community.”


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