Rowan's Wellness Center is in Winans Hall. The Wellness Center hosted the fourth annual “Out of the Darkness Campus Walk” to aid in suicide awareness. - File Photo / Amanda Palma

On April 24, the Wellness Center hosted Rowan’s fourth annual “Out of the Darkness Campus Walk.” To follow COVID-19 health and safety protocols, the New Jersey Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention decided to hold all walks virtually.

“The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide,” said Michelle Vorpahl, the associate area director for the New Jersey chapter of the AFSP. 

AFSP creates a culture that is smart about mental health by engaging in the following core strategies: funding scientific research, educating the public about mental health and suicide prevention, advocating for public policies, mental health and suicide prevention and supporting survivors of suicide loss and those affected by suicide.

“Suicide is a health issue that affects us all,” Vorpahl said. “As a community we know we have much to do, as we lose more than 47,000 lives every year in our country. While we are saddened by these deaths, we also see them as a call-to-action for our nation to do more to prevent suicide.”

Across New Jersey, 13 high schools and colleges participated in this year’s virtual walk, joining other campuses around the country.

“Today you are joining campuses and universities from all across New Jersey, and with our day of action, all across the United States, to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention,” Vorpahl said.

With 557 participants and the work of the 39 fundraising teams, the “Out of the Darkness Campus Walk” raised over $38,000 total. The number one team was Rowan University, who raised $5,211.37.

“We couldn’t do it without each and every one of you,” said Lindsay Johnson, a mental health clinician at Rowan University’s Counseling and Psychological Services. “Because of you, we’re able to continue to fight for a day when no one will die by suicide. Together, we are making a difference.”

The AFSP NJ Chapter encouraged students to participate in this day of action by either sharing graphics or photos, sharing its impact, having a real conversation or practicing self-care. Committee members at this event shared with students the ways they practice putting their mental health first.

“Self-care is such an important part of our lives that we completely overlook,” said Rafia Siddiq, the health and wellness specialist at The College of New Jersey. “Self-care means to take time for ourselves, whether that’s on a daily or weekly basis, by incorporating activities or actions in your life that keep you whole and grounded.”

A few self-care strategies for resilience that Siddiq recommended are to start a gratitude journal, prepare your favorite food, make your space comfy and cozy, video chat with your best friends, set boundaries with your media consumption or make a playlist of your favorite songs (and share with your friends). She realized throughout the pandemic that she needed to practice these tips more often to put her mental health first.

“What has helped is having supportive people around… who check in every once in a while, to remind me that I need to take a step back and take care of myself,” she said.

Brittany Auleta, the coordinator for Healthy Campus Initiatives at the Wellness Center at Rowan, showed a five-part plan for how to practice self-care: show compassion to yourself, rest and recharge your body, be honest with your truths, act and set boundaries and reach out for support when it’s needed.

“It is important to remember that in order to take care of ourselves or other people, we need to make sure that we’re remembering to take care of ourselves, too,” Auleta said. “The most important thing to remember is that self-care does take practice — like our mental health does — and whatever you like to do, add that into your self-care plan.”

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