The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

GR community shows support during Suicide Awareness Month

GVL / Sam Nelson

Grand Rapids and Grand Valley State University show support for families and loved ones for throughout Suicide Awareness Month through the “Out of the Darkness Walk” and the “Lakers Keep Lakers Safe” initiative. 

With September being Suicide Awareness Month, there are many efforts from a range of activists and organizations to raise awareness and open the conversation about mental health.

The Grand Rapids Out of the Darkness Community Walk on Sept. 17 was a proactive support walk to unite the Grand Rapids community and “acknowledge the ways in which suicide and mental health conditions have affected our lives and the lives of those we love and care about.” 

The “Out of the Darkness Walk” was a bustling event with hundreds of attendees and was full of mixed emotions. Many were glad to see each other and happy to not be alone. At the same time, many felt grief and shared tears, especially at the “Memory Wall” where people wrote the names of lost loved ones and even messages to them.

“Mommy, Daddy, and Ody love you forever,” said one heart. “Love you, miss you, Terena. I’m walking for you today,” said another. 

It was a solemn day, with many speakers getting up to recount stories and share poems they had written. However, there seemed to be an undertone of hope as people gathered to raise awareness and donate to a good cause. The Grand Rapids walk, organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, raised over $59,000 for suicide prevention resources.

Depression and mental health are personal battles many college students can identify with. According to a study done by the National Library of Medicine study, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for students in college.

Eric Brefka, the Marketing Coordinator for the Grand Rapids “Out of the Darkness Walk” and GVSU alum knows this fact too well. He graduated in GVSU’s class of 2013 and losing his friend Mike compelled his activism for mental health awareness.

“I had my former college roommate at GVSU lose a battle to suicide. It’s been a while but it’s still one of those things. I’m here because of him. I’m here to continue telling his story,” Brefka said. “Mike was my good friend, and I just want him to be remembered and show people that it’s okay to grieve these things and talk about these things. It doesn’t need to be stigmatized.” 

Brefka said while he did not take advantage of support resources at GVSU, he believes the campus community could have been doing more when he attended. 

“I never sought out services. I probably should have. I know Grand Valley has some things, but I feel like they could do better,” Brefka said. “Students (need to) know they have somewhere to go and someone to talk to. But it felt like something that was kind of pushed into a corner.”

Other students have shared different experiences at GVSU. Quiona Colter, a volunteer at the “Out of the Darkness Walk,” attended GVSU from 2017-2021 and majored in psychology. She attended during the COVID-19 pandemic and recounts it as being “intense.”

“I think Grand Valley did an amazing job of supporting their students and staff and made sure we practiced self-care,” Colter said. “They made sure we were safe and healthy. I can say, although it was an adjustment, Grand Valley did a good job of helping us get through that phase.” 

Brefka and Colter helped run the “Out of the Darkness Walk” on Sept. 17, coordinating a widespread effort to gather and commemorate those lost to suicide and celebrate those who have persisted in their personal fights against mental health. 

The GVSU “Lakers Keep Lakers Safe initiative urges students to report concerning behavior among fellow students. It isn’t just limited to mental health issues. Students are asked to report any substance misuse, sexual violence, a climate concern or even someone needing assistance with basic needs. 

Additional on-campus resources include the University Counseling Center (UCC) that has trained professionals available for one-on-one counseling, group counseling and other consultations. They also have emergency services in case someone is an immediate threat to themselves or others, coordinating with GVPD after hours. 

Many feel these resources are not doing enough. Students have expressed concern with the lack of acknowledgment of September’s Suicide Awareness Month on campus, expressing these programs rely on students to come forward and not putting the responsibility on administrators or faculty to take initiative. GVSU hasn’t shared anything on social media regarding Suicide Awareness Month, prompting some to believe there is a lack of discussion around suicide and how to prevent it in a college setting. 

If you are struggling with mental health or need to talk to someone, reach out to the GVSU’s UCC for resources. If someone on campus is an immediate threat to themselves or someone else, please call 9-1-1.

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