Student hopes suicide prevention walk will help break stigma around mental health

Two women dressed in athletic clothing and wearing beads stand in a park full of people
Mercer University students Claire Tolvanen, left, and Ally Driver pose for a picture at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness walk in Atlanta in October 2019.

A Mercer University student is working to start an Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk at the University.

Claire Tolvanen, a junior majoring in industrial engineering, is hoping not only to raise money to go toward suicide prevention but also break the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health. 

“It is scary and hard to take the first step of going to get help,” Tolvanen said. “I’m hoping that seeing these efforts on campus and seeing people talking about it will start a conversation and make people feel like it’s less scary to go get help.” 

Mercer’s Out of the Darkness Campus Walk, to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, is scheduled for April 18. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, whether the walk will be in-person or virtual will be decided closer to the date.  

To sign up, visit Mercer’s Out of the Darkness Campus Walk page online. Dozens of individuals already have raised nearly $7,500. 

The pandemic puts a new spotlight on the importance of talking about mental health. As of December, 56% of young adults ages 18-24 in the United States have reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder throughout the pandemic, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Household Pulse Survey

“People get isolated, they have less things to get out and do, and the uncertainty makes people more anxious. … It’s kind of harder to stay connected with everything going on now,” Tolvanen said. “So it’s really important to show people that they’re supported through this. 

“It’s not the easiest thing to talk about, so someone who might not have struggled before now might not really know who they can reach out to and where they can go for help.” 

Mercer’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers counseling services to students who are struggling with mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts. 

Corey Wetzel

“At CAPS, we provide individuals struggling with suicide a space to discuss their feelings without judgment,” said Corey Wetzel, assistant director of Counseling and Psychological Services, who is helping Tolvanen with the walk. “We then provide assessment, treatment and referrals. 

“It is my true belief that no one deserves to feel this way, and, therefore, should receive whatever support is needed to assist them.” 

In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24 in the United States, according to the CDC’s most recent data.  

Tolvanen encourages not only students but also faculty and staff to sign up for the walk. When professors and staff members get involved, it signals to students that the Mercer community supports them, she said. 

“That might encourage (students in crisis) to go get help or at least know that they aren’t alone and know that people are supporting them,” she said. 

Stigma related to suicide is the biggest barrier to someone getting help, Wetzel said. 

“If we are able to create more awareness and start talking about suicide in a healthy way, it can allow those who might be suffering from suicide to feel less alone,” she said. “Oftentimes, we don’t bring it up because we are fearful. However, it might be what the person needs to hear in order to feel understood and supported.” 


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Jennifer Falk is director of digital communications at Mercer. She edits and writes feature stories for The Den and examines web data and analytics to drive content decisions. She also creates and supervises the creation of content for primary University web pages and e-newsletters.