Last semester, Suzie Hicks sat in class, idly scrolling through her Facebook feed in a desperate attempt to relieve her boredom. Through the site’s typically endless feed of political opinions, cute animal photos, and easy recipe videos cycled through Hicks’ screen, one post stood out.
It was an advertisement for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Boston Out of the Darkness Walk. The event, only one of 384 other Out of the Darkness Walks that occurred in 2016 on college campuses and in cities around the country, was designed to raise awareness and funds with the goal of preventing suicide on a local and national scale.
The ad struck Hicks on a personal level. The junior marketing communication major lost a close friend to suicide in high school. The Out of the Darkness walk presented an opportunity to honor her friend while helping others. She formed a team and set to work. After a month and a half, they raised over $4,000. Now, Hicks is spearheading an Out of the Darkness walk specifically for the Emerson community. It will take place on April 9 on Boston Common.
“I think mental health in general is something that a lot of Emerson students struggle with,” Hicks said. “But you’re not alone, and this is literally a gathering in support of the fact that you’re not alone.”
For the first hour that morning, tents will be set up to register last-minute participants while others eat breakfast and don beaded necklaces—the colors of which denote how suicide has touched the life of the person wearing it.
At 10 a.m., Hicks will make a short speech to the walkers, as will Elise Harrison, the director of Emerson Counseling and Psychological Services, and Michele Lee, associate area director for the eastern Massachusetts chapter of AFSP.
“Generally, college students are more likely to be involved in these walks,” Lee said. “They’re ready to make an impact”
In addition, Emerson a cappella group Noteworthy will perform a rendition of Billy Joel’s “Lullabye,” a song Joel wrote in response to his daughter asking him about the afterlife. Finally, Hicks, Harrison, and Lee will lead the participants in a lap around the common. The route is only about a mile long and should take no more than 20 minutes.
Hicks is also responsible for Project WOW, an arts festival designed to promote mental health awareness that will occur only a few hours after Emerson’s Out of the Darkness walk. Project WOW will feature student art, poetry, and even dancing. Hicks hopes that the event will create a safe space for students to share their work, as well as providing a way to manage their own emotional hardships through artistic expression.
To promote the walk, Hicks has been posting on her Facebook account while simultaneously contacting Emerson student organizations, encouraging them to form teams of their own. Each team is responsible for setting a fundraising goal and participating in the walk.
So far, 69 people have registered for the Out of the Darkness walk. Hicks hopes to get close to 150 participants in total, and expects many to register right before the walk itself on April 9.
Initially, AFSP set a $5,000 goal for Emerson’s walk, which was broken easily. Now, the goal sits at $10,000, with $6,473 raised so far.
Hicks is motivated by a desire to bring members of the Emerson community together. She cites the lack of a traditional campus as being detrimental to Emerson’s overall sense of community.
“Emerson can be an isolating place sometimes, so I think it’s going to be a really cool experience to have everybody come together in solidarity for a cause,” Hicks said.
People can register at afsp.org/emerson either solo or with a team. Eight teams have been made so far, and Hicks hopes to grow that number to at least 15.
Last year, the greater Boston area hosted a total of four Out of the Darkness walks. This year three more will be added, including Emerson’s, bringing the total up to seven, according to Lee.
Depression and suicide pose a serious problem for young people not only at Emerson, but across the country. According to a 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.
“The idea of suicide prevention is, I think, on people’s minds a lot, but it’s not talked about enough,” Hicks said. “When it’s not talked about, people become afraid and it creates this cycle of fear and isolation that leads people to feel like there’s no hope… but there is hope.”