Nearly 45,000 Americans commit suicide each year according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
That’s a statistic Scott Moss, senior in finance, wants to change. Moss's father died by suicide when he was 11 years old.
Moss teamed up with founder and former president of Iowa State's Suicide Awareness Organization Nathan Pfister to organize ISU Out of the Darkness.
“It was really a campus-wide effort, though,” Moss added. “We got lots of support from different families, Greek communities and companies.”
Out of the Darkness is a community event started by AFSP to raise awareness about suicide and mental illness. Although it was Iowa State's first attempt at such an event, participants donated more than $82,000.
“It’s really exciting, especially since it’s the first time we’ve done this at ISU,” Moss said.
More than 300 registered participants met at 1 p.m. on March 24 at State Gym. People made donations, shared stories of loved ones lost to suicide and participated in the Out of the Darkness walk, a signature feature of the event.
Everyone walked 10 laps around the second-story basketball courts in State Gym. Each lap represented a different form of suicide-related grief, such as losing a parent, loved one or even struggling with suicidal thoughts yourself.
“It’s important for everyone to get involved,” Moss said. “It’s not one group’s job, ending the stigmas of mental illness is on all of us.”
Despite the heavy subject matter, spirits were high all around.
“I’ve helped out at these events before, and other walks have been on the darker side,” said Peter Weiss, junior in marketing and event volunteer. “This one really felt happier.”
“We weren’t going for a happy tone,” Moss said. “It just kind of fell into place. We wanted a lighter atmosphere for people to talk about mental illness, and remind them that it’s okay to talk about these things and we don’t need to struggle individually.”
Many of those who attended were in fraternities and sororities, such as Gamma Phi Beta members Emily Wagner and Sophia Hetherington.
“I’ve had family and friends who’ve passed away,” said Wagner, senior in elementary education. “It’s cool that I can keep participating in Out of the Darkness wherever I go.”
“I’m here because it’s a good cause,” said Hetherington, senior in industrial engineering. “I’ve known people who struggled with depression.”
In the wake of the event’s success came a discussion about Out of the Darkness into an annual occurrence.
“It was definitely a success, a lot of people braved the weather to come here,” said Pfister, senior in industrial engineering. “We broke all the records, we have to follow that up.”
According to Moss and Pfister, a main objective of the event is normalizing conversations about suicide and mental illnesses so people can know they aren’t alone.
“The amount of people that showed up today really illustrates how supportive the student body and the Ames community is about mental illness,” Pfister said.
Proceeds from Out of the Darkness go to sponsoring educational programs about suicide prevention.